Richmond unites to fight hospital closure by filing federal lawsuit against responsible county officials

Civil rights attorney Pamela Y. Price announced today that her firm has been retained by the DMC Closure Aversion Committee (DCAC) to take legal action to stop the closure of DMC, Doctor’s Medical Center. Price filed a lawsuit in federal court on Aug. 12, the day hospital and county officials had previously announced that they would cap the hospital beds at 50, divert ambulance traffic and close DMC’s stroke and heart attack unit.

Attorney Pamela Y. Price
Attorney Pamela Y. Price

The court denied the request for the temporary restraining order, citing the hospital’s representations that it had already taken some steps before the announced date and was unable to operate because of staffing issues. Price presented evidence that the alleged staffing crisis has been created by hospital officials in order to justify their efforts to close the hospital. The court ordered briefing on the issues and set another hearing on the matter for Aug. 27 at 3:30 p.m.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Price include DCAC, some doctors and nurses who have worked at DMC for decades, as well as patients whose lives are endangered by the closure of the hospital. Price sued the entire Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors individually as well as the director of Contra Costa’s Health Department and the president of the board of the West Contra Costa Health District, who have proceeded with plans to close the hospital for months despite the public outcry.

Closing the emergency room leaves only 15 beds at Kaiser, a private hospital, to serve a community of over 250,000 people. Attorney Price and her clients reacted to the court’s initial decision with disappointment but not discouragement. Price stated: “This is just the first shot across the bow. This hospital is too important to just close and walk away in 2014 and leave hundreds of thousands of people without reasonable access to health care in America. If we do not stop this train, people will die.”

In its June 2014 report, the Contra Costa Health Services Agency stated that “the loss of DMC would be catastrophic to West Contra Costa County. DMC provides 70 percent of the inpatient capacity for West County and receives 62 percent of the ambulance traffic. In 2013, DMC served 41,903 patients in the emergency room, with 29 percent meeting the criteria for severe or critical conditions.

Price stated: “This is just the first shot across the bow. This hospital is too important to just close and walk away in 2014 and leave hundreds of thousands of people without reasonable access to health care in America. If we do not stop this train, people will die.”

DMC supports over 1,500 patients in skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities in West County. It is the only medical facility in West County that provides specialized treatment for heart attacks and strokes. The delay in treatment to travel to hospitals in Martinez and/or Berkeley could easily mean death and/or disability for West County residents.

Attorney Pamela Y. Price founded her firm in 1991, making history by taking the case of Abner Morgan v. Amtrak all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning a $500,000 jury verdict after 10 years of litigation and two trials. For that victory, she was named the 2002 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year in Employment, the CLAY Award. For more information, visit http://www.pypesq.com/.

Fight to save DMC heightens with spirited march followed by unanimous Richmond Council vote calling on county to take over

Following a spirited march and rally on July 30 by several hundred nurses, patients – many in wheelchairs – with religious and community leaders and elected officials and after passionate speeches by Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Pastor Donnell Jones of New Direction Ministries in Richmond and others on the critical need for keeping DMC (Doctors Medical Center) open as a full-service, acute-care facility, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution urging Contra Costa County to integrate DMC into Contra Costa Health Services to provide healthcare to all residents of West Contra Costa County.

The resolution stated that West County is disproportionally lacking in health services and DMC’s closure would cause severe harm to the public health of its residents:

  • Residents would need to travel to Martinez for care, which would cause a hardship for the high proportion of elderly and low-income residents of West County.
  • With the highest rate of asthma and respiratory illnesses in the county, other county hospitals don’t have the same capabilities as DMC, which staffs a top-of-the-line cardiovascular and asthma-respiratory program.
  • DMC serves thousands of patients from all over the region and also handles all industrial accidents within the immediate area.
  • West County predominantly comprises Latino, African American and elderly communities – all groups who have the highest rate of cardiovascular disease.
  • DMC is the only facility with a specialized cardiac catheterization lab essential for the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.
Hundreds have been marching and rallying to save DMC, Doctors Medical Center, which treated 12,000 of the 15,000 people in Richmond hospitalized by the Chevon refinery explosion in August 2012. – Photo: NUHW
Hundreds have been marching and rallying to save DMC, Doctors Medical Center, which treated 12,000 of the 15,000 people in Richmond hospitalized by the Chevron refinery explosion in August 2012. – Photo: NUHW

“This community really supports keeping DMC open,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said from the podium at the rally. “The people have gathered together to express their political will. I’m with you on this and will continue to be with you.

“Those of you at the City Council meeting Tuesday night know what a battle we had on our hands. We tried to get funding through the Chevron project. Five members of the council wouldn’t hear it. Only the vice mayor and myself supported it. We continue to support Chevron’s need to assist DMC. Chevron’s continued incidents are something we live with, and this full-service hospital in West County needs to remain open.”

“We’re here to support the community, the patients, and the staff,” said Melissa Thompson, an RN who works in the critical care unit at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center Sutter Delta Medical Center. “Doctors need to stay right here in this community. The patients need this hospital to stay open. We will stand behind you every step of the way. We love the patients. We love the community. As nurses, this is what we do. We’ll march, we’ll walk, we’ll shout, we’ll go to City Council meetings, anything that needs to be done to keep this hospital open.”

“This community really supports keeping DMC open,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said from the podium at the rally. “The people have gathered together to express their political will. I’m with you on this and will continue to be with you.”

“I have a few questions for you to ask your board of supervisors,” said Laurel Hodgson, an ER physician at DMC. “Why, year after year, do you give $30 million to the county hospital and when we are really needy, you loan us (DMC), at extortion rates, $6 million? We are the most efficient hospital in the county. Why aren’t you supporting efficiency? We want the support you give to the county hospital given [to us] here, because we provide more patients, we provide dialysis, we provide heart attack care. It’s time the rest of the county recognizes what this hospital has done for years and years and what we continue to do with all our hearts and our abilities.”

“Let’s remind people that Richmond and the area of West County has the sickest patients here, the highest cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said Maria Sahagun, an ER RN at DMC. “The assault on our communities is more blatant than ever. Chevron needs to take responsibility. They’ve been with us for 105 years and it is their responsibility to help us out. We cannot allow this to happen. If it does, it’s immoral. I am more motivated to go forward and fight this than ever.”

To learn more, visit http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/.