CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: Pinole Hospital ER Closes Amidst Controversy
Following months of "bitter public disputes," the emergency room at Doctors Medical Center in Pinole will "quietly" close its doors today, despite concerns that the closure will force patients to drive farther for emergency medical care, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Although the Pinole facility will continue to offer services including non-emergency health care, outpatient surgery, long term care, substance abuse care programs and other outpatient specialties, those residents who need immediate emergency care will have to travel more than four miles to the center's affiliate in San Pablo. On the heels of the November closure of Mount Zion Hospital's ER, the Pinole shutdown is the latest in the Bay area, leaving some health care providers and citizens alarmed. "I'm terrified for this community," Doctors ER nurse Carol Harned said. She blamed the shutdown on the greed of Tenet Healthcare Corp., the facility's owner. "I know people will die because of not enough profits for Tenet," she said. Both the Pinole City Council and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors opposed the closure. Supervisor John Gioia said, "We are always concerned when there is a decrease in ER capacity and an increase in transport time. That extra two minutes could be the difference between life and death." The county urged the state Department of Health Services to stop the shutdown, but department officials said they lacked the authority to do so. Further, critics charged Tenet with failure to adequately inform the community about the closure.
In Its Defense
Hospital officials defended the closure, arguing that is was necessary to combine services at the two hospitals. Doctors CEO Gary Sloan said, "I appreciate the feelings of loss in our community. (But) this consolidation will provide a more efficient means of serving the community." Nearly 75% of those patients treated monthly at the facility's ER were non-emergency cases, Sloan said. He added that financial struggles necessitated the shutdown. Defending the facility's communication with the community, Doctors Chief Development Officer Catharine Zaharko said that the facility had placed ads in local newspapers and hospital officials had made appearances on local television shows to discuss the changes. Still, critics blasted the move. California Nurses Association spokesperson Charles Idelson said, "We're not talking about a little mom-and-pop hospital that's having financial problems. They're not in any kind of financial danger" (Pimentel, 4/3).