A plan to keep Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open in a drastically scaled-down form is moving forward with a $6 million loan from Contra Costa County.
The county's Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 at its meeting in Martinez Tuesday morning to approve the multimillion-dollar transfer from the county's general fund capital reserve in order to keep the financially struggling public hospital open while health care officials devise a downsized hospital model focusing on emergency care.
"We have an obligation to all the citizens of this county, and although this closure will have more of a major impact in West County, it will have a countywide impact," Supervisor Federal Glover said.
The county's loan, to be repaid over three years, will give Doctors Medical Center the time it needs to explore a new financially viable health care model such as a stand-alone emergency room or a much smaller facility focusing on emergency care, Contra Costa Health Services director Dr. William Walker said.
Without the cash infusion, the hospital would have to close this summer and would lose $6.4 million in property tax income along with its MediCare license, West Contra Costa Healthcare District director Eric Zell said.
"There's a lot of angst about the change of this model, but at the end of the day, this is about providing basic health care services to that part of the county and we have to do what we have to do to get there," Zell told the board.
Tuesday's vote came a week after Doctors Medical Center officials announced they had rescinded a notice to close the hospital by July 25.
The hospital had been on track to shut down after voters in the West Contra Costa Healthcare District rejected a May parcel tax measure meant to bridge its $18 million budget gap.
Supervisor Mary Piepho, the board's sole "no" vote on the loan, cited the $29 million the county has already loaned the hospital since 2006 and its continued failure to sustain itself.
In addition to ongoing county support, the hospital has managed to stay afloat with revenue from property taxes passed by voters in 2004 and in 2005.
But with the failure of the latest tax measure in May and a structural budget deficit of $18 million due to a patient population consisting mostly of MediCare beneficiaries, hospital leaders prepared for closure.
The county's loan won't be enough to keep Doctors Medical Center from a dramatic downsize. Some 80-90% of its employees could be out of a job as soon as Aug. 1, according to Walker.
Several hospital employees at today's meeting said that while the county loan is needed to keep the hospital open, a plan that includes reduced emergency services would be woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a largely low-income patient population.