The U.S. Public Health Service will soon take over operation of the medical clinic at Yosemite National Park. This new arrangement will allow the Yosemite Medical Clinic to continue providing 24-hour outpatient service, resolving a crisis that would have closed the clinic's doors at the end of the year.
The Public Health Service, which employs over 6,000 health professionals, operates medical clinics on Indian reservations and in some rural communities throughout America. While the agency inspects food and monitors drinking water in many national parks, including Yosemite, it has never staffed a medical facility in a National Park System unit. That distinction will end on January 1st when the agency's Commissioned Corps health professionals begin providing services formerly supplied at Yosemite by a concessionaire.
Doctors Medical Center, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dallas-based Tenet HealthSystem, has operated the Yosemite Medical Clinic under contract for the past decade and a half. Unfortunately, the clinic, which has six triage rooms, a four-bed emergency suite, and a staff of 32 health care workers (including 19 part-timers), is quite expensive to run and has chronically lost money. After concluding that it could not operate the clinic profitably, Tenet informed the Park Service that it will withdraw from Yosemite when its current contract expires on December 31.
When efforts to find a suitable replacement for Doctors Medical Center came to naught, the Park Service turned to the Public Health Service for help. The Park Service and Yosemite National Park have agreed to pay some of the clinic's salaries and operating costs.
Bringing the clinic up to full speed under its new management will take several months. Reduced operating hours will be in effect during this transitional period, during which a pharmacy, an occupational health service, and several other services will be phased in. Officials anticipate that the clinic will be fully staffed and operating normally before the onset of the busy summer tourist season.
This is great news for all who visit or work in Yosemite. Since the heavily-visited park is not close to a city, the services provided by the clinic are of vital importance. About 7,000 people a year are treated. In addition to handling the normal run of non-life threatening injuries and illnesses in-house, the clinic's doctors, nurses, paramedics, X-ray technician, and other personnel provide emergency services needed to stabilize patients and prepare them for transfer to area hospitals.
While most patients requiring hospitalization can be transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital (80 minutes away in Modesto), the nearest trauma center is a good two hours away and critical cases must be helicopter-evacuated. The park employs a contract helicopter during the busy summer season and also uses an emergency helicopter service that the California Highway Patrol provides.