Nurses reject ‘independent’ panel on Doctor’s Medical Center as cover for real intent, DMC closure

Alternatives would abandon community, put safety at risk,’ say RNs

by Patrick Doyle

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United blasted a report issued Sept. 24 from the supposed “independent” panel of stakeholders set up by the hospital giants to provide a cover for the closure of embattled Doctors Medical Center, long a mainstay for the people of Richmond and San Pablo.

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. These proud young people are 2012 graduates of DMC’s Summer Youth Employment program.
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. These proud young people are 2012 graduates of DMC’s Summer Youth Employment program.

While the report carries a label of being comprised of “independent” stakeholders, it is anything but, said CNA. The panel does not include direct care RNs or other health workers from the hospital or community residents who are now, or might be in the future, patients needing care at DMC.

Panel members include the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, lobby arm for the biggest area hospital corporations, giant East Bay hospital chains Kaiser, Sutter and John Muir, and some county officials who, said CNA, have done little to fight to keep DMC open as a full service hospital.

Instead of calling on the county to take over and run DMC as a full service hospital, panel members have reportedly been pushing conversion of the hospital to an urgent care center or stand-alone emergency department, according to what sources have told CNA.

CNA opposes the transformation of DMC to a facility that would provide fragmented care that could put patients who expect they are coming to a real hospital at risk. The nurses have also charged that hospital officials are working behind the scenes to push the sale of the hospital to local casino operators.

“Nurses are opposed to a stand-alone emergency room that creates a system of medical apartheid in West Contra Costa County. Our patients need a full service hospital,” said DMC RN Carol De Young.

Instead of calling on the county to take over and run DMC as a full service hospital, panel members have reportedly been pushing conversion of the hospital to an urgent care center or stand-alone emergency department, according to what sources have told CNA.

CNA contends that DMC could be saved if there was sufficient political will, financed by the county with either recently disclosed windfall property tax revenues or pushing the hospital giants – or nearby Chevron, whose pollution sends patients to DMC – to contribute to the operation of the hospital.

For months, CNA has been campaigning with area residents demanding the hospital be saved as a full-service hospital, warning of implications to patient safety if it is closed.

In a letter sent Sept. 24 to the director of the California Department of Department of Health, CNA sharply criticized the “sleight-of-hand” legal justifications cited by the hospital industry and county officials to promote a stand-alone ER, which, CNA noted, is “patently unlawful under current California hospital licensing statutes and regulations.”

For months, CNA has been campaigning with area residents demanding the hospital be saved as a full-service hospital, warning of implications to patient safety if it is closed.

“Pursing a Stand-Alone Emergency Department as an ‘alternative’ to DMC is a callous, grotesque form of medical and legal experimentation on the residents of West County – an area populated by disproportionate numbers of elderly, African American, disabled and indigent residents suffering from elevated rates of serious health problems, notably heart disease, diabetes, cancer, as well as adult and child asthma, who rely on DMC for prompt emergency care for heart attacks, stroke, respiratory distress, sepsis and other life-threatening conditions – which most assuredly will, by the County’s own admissions and those of experts in emergency medicine, interventional cardiology and other critical care specialties, lead to increased morbidity and mortality both among West County residents and in surrounding emergency departments as they try to absorb the more than 40,000 emergency department patients cared for by DMC each year,” CNA charged.

CNA called on the state not to sanction the maneuver or to approve any proposal to operate the hospital as a stand-alone ER and thereby set a dangerous new “model” for delivery of emergency care in California.

Patrick Doyle can be reached via cidelson@calnurses.org.