Doctors Medical Center provides critical health care services to approximately 250,000 West County residents. A commitment to delivering quality health care, regardless of patients' ability to pay, is core to the hospital's mission.

Since opening 59 years ago, DMC has provided an important safety net to thousands of residents. This is why I am honored to serve as chair of the Healthcare District Board of Directors, which oversees the hospital.

It also is why all of us associated with Doctors are sounding the alarm about our dire fiscal circumstances.

It is critical that West County and the greater Bay Area take very seriously that we are on the verge of losing a vital safety-net provider of emergency and other acute medical services in West Contra Costa County, where a large portion of the population is uninsured, underinsured or reliant on Medi-Cal or Medicare.

Here are the numbers.

Doctors accounts for roughly 80 percent of inpatient capacity and nearly 60 percent of emergency room care within West County.

Countywide, we deliver 25 percent of all severe heart-attack treatments. Over the past two years, Doctors improved efficiencies and cut spending to the point where our costs per patient are 24 percent lower than the East Bay hospital average.

And, in 2011, we earned overwhelming voter support of a new parcel tax to support hospital operations. Despite these positive steps, DMC is still losing $18 million a year.

The principal reason for this financial condition is our extremely low Medi-Cal and Medicare payments; additionally, in the case of Medi-Cal, we have not had an increase in payment in more than seven years.

Our financial reserves are dwindling perilously low, and the health care district no longer has the ability to borrow against future revenues.

A Nov. 12 decision by our governing board to formally declare a fiscal emergency "sounds the alarm" that our financial circumstances are in critical condition and that we need our community to come together to save this critically needed public hospital before it is too late.

We will continue sounding the alarm until we can find the needed revenue necessary to help us "bridge" into 2015, when we hope our efforts to affiliate with another health care institution will be successful.

Closing our community hospital would create a gaping hole in our region's health network -- bringing hardship to tens of thousands of residents.

Surrounding hospitals, only one of which is in West County, and clinics would be forced to serve those who no longer would be able to come to Doctors.

A recent study conducted by the Contra Costa Health Department concluded that if Doctors closes, West County would experience a "health care crisis" with significantly longer wait times at other area emergency rooms, longer ambulance transport times, and a substantial decrease in access to health care for our residents.

If Doctors Medical Center, originally founded as Brookside Hospital in 1954, is to survive through its 60th year, it will require cooperative action from many stakeholders, and that action is needed now.

Eric Zell is chairman of the Board of Directors of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, a resident of Richmond, and a professional consultant and specialist in public policy, government relations and political strategy.