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Contra Costa County Voters Consider Parcel Tax To Keep Doctors Medical Center Open

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Doctors Medical Center, San Pablo

Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. (CBS)

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SAN PABLO (CBS SF) — Voters in West Contra Costa County are starting to mail in their ballots on a May 6 parcel tax measure meant to keep a long-standing public hospital in San Pablo from closing its doors.

Measure C is a mail-in ballot that would levy a 14-cent tax on each square foot of developed property within the West Contra Costa Health Care District in an effort to keep the financially embattled Doctors Medical Center afloat.

The ballot measure needs two-thirds voter approval to pass and would go into effect in July if approved.

If the measure fails, the hospital will close as soon as July, according to Contra Costa County Supervisors John Gioia, who serves on the hospital district’s governing board.

Gioia said Measure C is “a last-ditch effort to save the hospital,” which sees some 40,000 patients per year.

Since it opened in 1954 the hospital has operated as a public health care district serving mostly uninsured and underinsured patients or Medi-Cal beneficiaries, according to hospital officials.

Over the years, the rate of Medi-Cal and MediCare patients at the hospital has risen to roughly 80 percent and hospital’s revenue has plunged, according to Gioia.

Unlike most public hospitals, Doctors Medical Center has managed to cut overhead and administrative positions and to bring in enough outside funding from the state and other area hospitals to stay open. A $52 parcel tax approved by voters in 2004 and a $47 parcel tax measure passed in 2011 has also kept the struggling medical center afloat.

But the outside funds from the state and other hospitals have now dried up and the hospital is losing some $17 million per year, according to Gioia.

The hospital board continues to request outside financial aid and recently reached an agreement with a nearby casino to lease part of the hospital’s parking lot.

The parcel tax measure is not only the hospital district’s last hope, but unlike the 2004 and 2011 measures would be enough to close the hospital’s budget gap, said Gioia.

Opponents to Measure C point out that West Contra Costa County residents are already the most heavily taxed in the county and say that a third hospital district tax would unfairly burden area residents.

In the ballot arguments against the measure, opponents wrote that the hospital “has had a financially unsustainable revenue stream for decades” and needs to find a more long-term fix rather than another parcel tax.

The failure of Measure C and the hospital’s subsequent closure would mean that West County residents would have to travel farther to find an emergency room.

Contra Costa Health Services conducted a study that concluded that patients could face wait times of up to 10 hours at Kaiser Permanente’s Richmond Medical Center, the next nearest hospital. Others would be sent to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley or to Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, according to the report.

In addition, Doctors Medical Center is West Contra Costa County’s only certified stroke and heart attack.

“It’s hard for a hospital where 80 percent of the patients have Medicare and Medi-Cal … but yet everybody relies on that hospital when you have a heart attack or a stroke,” Gioia said.

The ballot measure puts the fate of the hospital in voters’ hands, he noted.

The mail-in ballots went out on April 6 and must be received by mail or dropped off at a ballot return center on May 6 between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Ballot return center locations and other election information can be found at http://www.cocovote.us.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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