Decision Time for East Bay Hospital

On Tuesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on a plan to restore the emergency department at Doctors Medical Center, a safety-net  hospital in San Pablo, on the lower-income, western side of the county.

“If a shared-commitment plan isn’t arrived at within the first or second quarter of 2015, Doctors Medical Center will have to close,” said Chuck Finnie, vice president of communications and media at BMWL and Partners, a San Francisco communication and campaign consulting firm representing Doctors Medical Center.

“The community would have to look at much more modest ways to provide care in West County,” Finnie said.

That modest effort would likely take the form of an urgent care facility, rather than an ED, he said.

“The difference is, urgent care is a kind of service without board certified emergency physicians, it would have no surgery, no emergency department,” Finnie said. “It’s bringing people in, patching them up and sending them home or to somewhere else.”

It’s the “somewhere else” that makes the shared-commitment plan palatable for the three nearby hospitals that would have to absorb the low-income patients who currently are served by Doctors Medical Center, Finnie said.

“They have a stake in a sustainable safety-net hospital in West County,” Finnie said.

Specifically, the Contra Costa County supervisors will hear two debt-relief proposals. The first would temporarily suspend a $3 million repayment to the county of cash advances previously made to the district that runs the hospital. The second proposal is to waive three additional years of repayments, for a total of about $9 million.

Those pieces are part of a multi-pronged plan to keep the ED open at Doctors Medical Center — stringing together debt relief, more revenue and lowered spending to broach an estimated $19 million annual operating deficit. An important piece of the puzzle is voter passage of a new parcel tax, at a lower rate than the one rejected by voters in May.

“The first important piece is for Board of Supervisors to sign off on this plan,” Finnie said.

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