RICHMOND - A group of doctors, nurses and community activists say they will continue fighting to keep the financially troubled Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open.
A group that calls itself the DMC Aversion Committee, or DCAC, held a news conference in Richmond today to voice its continued opposition to the downsizing and closure of DMC, the only public hospital in West Contra Costa County.
"Our community -- not only West County but the entire Bay Area community cannot stand by and allow this hospital to close," said Oakland-based attorney Pamela Price, who is representing DCAC.
The gathering came two weeks after DMC stopped accepting emergency ambulance service, cut its number of inpatient beds to 50 and shut down its heart attack intervention program after the hospital shed more than 80 staff members.
Patients in the area who would normally seek care at the hospital are now diverted to the next nearest hospitals, from nearby Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center to as far as Berkeley and Vallejo.
Last Wednesday, Richmond resident Booker Williams died of an apparent heart attack at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, despite requests from his family that he go to DMC, according to Price.
The attorney said today that Williams' death is a direct result of the diversion of ambulances from DMC to the farther hospital, which was overloaded with emergency patients on the day of his death.
"A man has died, and we know that he will not be the only one if we don't stop this train," Price said.
The Rev. Andre Shumake of Richmond, who also spoke at today's news conference, agreed.
"It has been stated and it was presented earlier that should this hospital close, should there be a diversion of ambulances to other facilities that this would happen," he said. "How many more people have to die?"
DCAC contends that the county should step up to fund the hospital, which has struggled for years to remain afloat and has operated under an annual $18 million budget deficit due to a mostly uninsured or underinsured patient population. Voters rejected a May parcel tax measure meant to bridge the deficit.
On Aug. 12 Price filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of DCAC in an effort to stop the hospital's continued downsizing and potential closure, which hospital officials have said could happen as soon as October.
The suit alleges that scaling back services or closing the hospital constitutes discrimination, since its patients are mostly low-income residents, seniors or people of color, a situation that Shumake today called "medical apartheid."
A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco earlier this month denied a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the diversion of emergency ambulances at DMC. A hearing on the case is scheduled in San Francisco on Wednesday.
The complaint names Contra Costa County, each member of the Board of Supervisors, county Health Services director Dr. William Walker, the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District and district board chairman Eric Zell as defendants.
Zell could not be reached for comment.
County Supervisor John Gioia, whose district includes DMC, noted that he has fought for the better part of a decade to keep the hospital open and continues to work to prevent its closure.
"I think it is unfortunate to be critical of those who have been working to save the hospital for seven years and who actually worked to bring the hospital out of bankruptcy in 2008," Gioia said.
The supervisor is among several county officials and representatives from nearby Bay Area hospitals in a recently formed group tasked with devising an alternate model for the hospital that would allow it to keep its doors open and hopefully restore emergency ambulance services.
The focus now, he said, is on a model that would keep the hospital's emergency room open since studies have shown that the loss of the ER would have the greatest adverse impact on residents.
According to Gioia, the county's 10 health care clinics, including two located in West Contra Costa County, see some 80,000 patients annually - about double the amount of patients seen in DMC's ER each year, according to hospital estimates.
Meanwhile, state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, last week introduced a bill that would integrate DMC into the state's public health care system. If passed, the hospital would be eligible to receive higher reimbursement fees from government sponsored health care plans, which hospital officials have said could mean more than $4 million in additional annual income.
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