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Community Members Urge Supervisors To Keep San Pablo’s Doctors Medical Center Open

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Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. (CBS)

Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. (CBS)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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SAN PABLO (CBS SF) — Dozens of community members and staff from San Pablo’s Doctors Medical Center urged the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors at its meeting in Martinez Tuesday to help keep the debt-plagued hospital open while county leaders said they are in no position to save it.

The board also heard a report today about the impact of the hospital’s potential closure just a week after a parcel tax measure meant to provide funding needed to avert the hospital’s closure failed.

Since Measure C didn’t receive the two-thirds voter approval needed to pass, the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District, which oversees the hospital, has announced that Doctors Medical Center is on track to close.

“Today I sit with very little financial resources to keep this hospital open,” said Dawn Gideon, DMC’s Interim CEO.

She said for the hospital to remain open would require a “community response” including fiscal support from medical corporations such as Kaiser and Sutter.

“Without immediate financial support, this hospital will close by the end of July,” she told the board.

That would leave West Contra Costa without its sole public hospital, and one that sees mostly uninsured patients or Medi-Cal beneficiaries. The hospital’s roughly 80,000 patients each year would have to turn elsewhere for emergencies and other medical care.

At today’s meeting, doctors, nurses, patients and other community members waited their turn to plead with the board to provide funding to keep the public hospital open and to warn of the consequences the community would face if it closes.

“This is not just a call to action, this is an urgent wakeup call to do what’s right to avoid a catastrophe,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told the board, noting that roughly 60 percent of emergency care in West Contra Costa County is provided by Doctors Medical Center.

“We call on you to do what we think you’re best able to do and that is to absorb (the hospital),” she said, drawing a steady round of applause from the several dozen attendees waiting to deliver the same message.

As one of the only emergency rooms in the area and the only certified heart attack and stroke center, many voiced concerns about the risk presented by the longer trip to hospitals as far as Berkeley and Vallejo if DMC is gone.

“I have seen numerous patients who do not even have a few extra minutes to get the life-saving care they need, let alone an additional 30 minutes,” said Jodie Munoz, a longtime registered nurse at DMC.

Munoz also recalled the influx of thousands of patients that the hospital saw in the aftermath of the Chevron refinery fire in August 2012 that sickened some 15,000 residents.

Patients suffering from cancer and other major illnesses will also suffer if the hospital closes, some speakers warned.

“For cancer patients the two biggest things to worry about is time and money,” said Dr. Madhu Shetti of the hospital’s Radiation Oncology department.

“As a care provider, every day I see patients and they ask, ‘If you’re not here, what is going to happen to me?’” she said.

The prospect of the hospital closing is one its governing board has long fought to avoid as DMC struggled for decades under the financial strain of its mostly uninsured or underinsured patients.

Supervisor John Gioia, a member of the DMC governing board who campaigned for Measure C along with hospital parcel tax measures passed by West County voters in 2007 and in 2011, said that after years of support from the state and other hospitals dried up and ongoing cuts to hospital expenses, Measure C was one of DMC’s last options for them to stay open.

“The hospital has done just about everything it could possibly do to make it sustainable,” he said.

Unless the San Pablo hospital gets help from a neighboring hospital system or somehow becomes part of a major medical chain, it is unlikely it will be able to remain open, Gioia said.

And with Contra Costa Health Services facing its own $20 million deficit, there simply isn’t room to take on the financially ailing hospital, health services director Dr. William Walker said Tuesday.

The county health department is preparing for DMC’s closure with plans to expand both primary care and urgent care at its clinics in San Pablo and Richmond, he said.

He said health services officials also hope to meet with representatives from Kaiser Permanente, John Muir Health and Sutter “to establish a higher level of care in West County than currently exists.”

© 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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