SAN CLEMENTE (CBSLA.com) — Hundreds of residents gathered on Saturday to protest against turning a hospital into a medical office building in San Clemente.

Over 200 people, part of the non-profit group formed to fight against the closure of Saddleback Hospital by Memorial Care Health System, were seen around 8:00 a.m. on the San Clemente Pier.

KCAL9’s Joy Benedict spoke with Dr. Gus Gialamas, who explained the city will come to a decision in March regarding the fate of the hospital.

“We’re trying to educate our community about the negative impact on losing the hospital and emergency room in a small town,” Gialamas explained. “With 100,000 people on the weekends, we want to show memorial that there’s support for the hospital, and try to sway their decision.”

The proposed plan is to turn the 62,000 square-foot building into a medical office complex, that would remove the emergency room, but still include urgent care.

Gialamas explained that without an emergency room, paramedics are not able to bring sick patients with emergency conditions, such as heart attacks and gunshot wounds, to receive treatment.

“There needs to be an attached emergency room for urgent care,” he explained. “This makes a huge level of difference of emergency services.”

According to Gialamas, the hospital has provided healthcare access for over 40 years to the community of San Clemente, and surrounding areas including Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.

Saddleback Hospital has served as the sole emergency care facility for the community.

If the planned closure takes place, it will raise concern for residents regarding travel time, as it will leave a 40-mile void of an emergency room between Oceanside and Mission Viejo.

So far, more than 1,000 signatures have been generated from the community in petition of the facility’s closure.

San Clemente hosts about 65,000 residents.

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