SAN PABLO -- Hospital workers and residents gathered with organizers Saturday to plot their last-ditch efforts to save Doctors Medical Center, which faces likely closure this summer after a $20 million parcel tax aimed at shoring up its finances was rejected by voters on Tuesday.
"It's on all of us to save DMC now," said Kim Tavaglione, an organizer for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, one of the unions that represents the 900 workers at the hospital.
The meeting in DMC's auditorium drew about 45 people. Organizers emphasized that there is still a chance to save the beleaguered hospital, despite warnings that closure was imminent if the parcel tax, Measure C, failed to get two-thirds of voter support. Organizers spelled out a clear first step in the desperate effort to fill the more than $18 million annual deficit and keep the hospital viable. The first hurdle is to push the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, who will meet to discuss the hospital's future on Tuesday, to take on some level of support for the hospital.
"It's clearly in the law that the county has a responsibility to support this hospital because of the indigent population that it helps serve," said NUHW representative Patrick Doyle.
But county officials see things differently and have noted in the past that DMC is governed by the West Contra Costa Health Care District and that the county already provides care to the indigent with its hospital in Martinez and system of clinics countywide. The county does not have the means nor the mandate to support or absorb the hospital, which serves residents on private insurance plans as well as the uninsured and those on Medicare and Medi-Cal, county officials have said.
Doctors Medical Center operates West County's largest emergency room, seeing 40,000 patients a year, and provides all the area's specialized heart attack and stroke care in the 250,000 resident community.
But after Measure C failed -- a failure that followed two previous successful parcel taxes in the district in the last decade -- hospital proponents immediately began searching for options to avert closure. Dr. Richard Stern, the hospital's chief of staff, said in a telephone interview Friday that he believes there is a chance to close the gap, with roughly half the funds coming from deep cuts in hospital staff pay and the other half coming from county and private funds. Talks are underway with other area hospitals for support, Stern said, but nothing has been locked in.
"We're trying for a Hail Mary," Stern said. Hospital CEO Dawn Gideon sent a closure notice to the county last month, before Measure C failed, because state law requires 90-days notice before any reduction in emergency services. Without new funds, the emergency room can't operate beyond July 25.
At the meeting Saturday, organizers urged workers and residents to attend the supervisors meeting on Tuesday in Martinez to demand that they step in and provide at least some support, a signal they hope will bring other resources to the table.
"DMC has been providing services to the county's indigent for decades," said Jan Gilbrecht of the California Nurses Association and NUHW. "But the county has not accepted any responsibility for this hospital, they have kept it at arm's length. ... The county must act."
Studies have shown that the closure of Doctors Medical Center could lead to a health care crisis in West County, which has the least affluent communities in the county, due to increased transport times, deluges of patients at other hospitals and a ripple effect that will likely trigger private doctors to leave the area to be closer to another hospital.
Maria Sahagun, an emergency room nurse at DMC, said the shooting of a 17-year-old Richmond boy last month was a key example of what DMC means to the community.
"We were able to stabilize him here in a matter of minutes," Sahagun said. "If he had to go somewhere farther, he would have probably died."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.