Judicial Ruling on East Bay Hospital’s Closure Complicated by Patient’s Death

A U.S. District Court judge tomorrow will hear new evidence on the potential closure of the emergency department at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo.

Earlier this month the cash-strapped hospital began ambulance diversions, turning people away from the emergency department because of staffing shortages.

Last week a man died after being diverted to Alta Bates, a 25-minute ambulance ride from Doctors Medical Center.

Federal judge William Orrick on Aug. 11 denied a motion for a restraining order that would have kept the emergency doors open.

The group of nurses and patients who filed for the restraining order hope the judge will reconsider, in part because of the patient death, which may have been influenced by the lengthy diversion.

As all the legal maneuvering is coming to a head this week, there is a legislative push, as well, to try to keep Doctors Medical Center open.

AB 39 by Assembly member Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) asks federal officials to designate DMC as a public hospital, as a demonstration project. That would buy the hospital a little time to figure out a viable long-term plan, according to Skinner.

Another attempt to keep the hospital solvent, a group attempt at financing  involving  public health officials, nearby hospital officials affected by the potential closure and others has hit an impasse, “… according to Chuck Finnie, vice president of communications and media at BMWL and Partners, a San Francisco communication and campaign consulting firm representing Doctors Medical Center.

“We’ve been in this process with public health officials and the hospital council for a long time,” Finnie said. “What’s happened there is the numbers just aren’t penciling out.”

If the situation can’t be quickly addressed in the courts, or if the Skinner bill can’t turn around the problem immediately, the hospital is on an arc to shut down all services soon, Finnie said. 

“The hospital is on a glide path to the end of October,” Finnie said.

The hospital has been capped at 50 beds, rather than its usual 130, Finnie said, and this week that cap will be lowered to 30 beds. The hospital can’t possibly survive long with that limited income stream, he said.

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