SAN PABLO, Calif. --A busy public hospital that has served West Contra Costa County residents for six decades is on track to close after voters on Tuesday rejected a parcel tax measure meant to bridge an $18 million budget gap.
Proponents of Measure C hoped voters would pass the parcel tax, which would have collected 14 cents per square foot of developed property, or about $210 for a 1,500-square-foot home, in order to keep Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open.
The measure was approved by about 52 percent of voters within the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District, falling short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass, according to county election results.
"District voters have spoken," said Eric Zell, chairman of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which owns Doctors Medical Center.
"Given the unsustainable operating losses -- and despite all of our efforts to cut costs and bring in new revenue -- it is now incumbent on hospital leadership and medical staff to prepare for an orderly closure and to work with county public health officials on transition of patient care," Zell said.
The district's governing board in January voted to put the measure on the May 6 ballot as an effort to prevent the financially ailing hospital's closure.
Barring any last-minute funding offers from other health care systems, the hospital appears on track to close in July, said County Supervisor John Gioia, who serves on the hospital's governing board.
The hospital's five-member elected board of directors, which will meet today at 4 p.m., had already approved a contingency plan for Doctors Medical Center's closure in July if Measure C failed.
That means West County residents will have to go elsewhere for emergency care. Patients will instead have to go to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Richmond, which has about 15 emergency room beds compared to Doctors Medical Center's 25.
The next nearest emergency rooms are at Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center in Martinez and Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.
"All of us who live in West County will face the possibility of longer ambulance transport and longer waits in other emergency rooms," Gioia said.
The supervisor said Contra Costa Health Services is preparing to increase same-day clinic appointments at its West County Health Center, located about two blocks from Doctors Medical Center, to absorb many of the patients who turn to the local emergency room for non-emergency care.
Meanwhile, the hospital's roughly 1,000 staff members are preparing to lose their jobs.
Maria Sahagun, a Richmond resident and registered nurse who has worked at the hospital for six years, said she's concerned about the effect the hospital's shutdown will have on the surrounding community.
"The mortality rates will increase -- we will have deaths related to the closure of Doctors Medical Center," Sahagun said. Sahagun, who is in her 40s, said she also worries what would happen to her own family if she or her husband suffered a heart attack or stroke and faced a longer response time to access another hospital.
"The toll on life is not known yet and I really pray that we do not have to see anyone suffer as a result of legislators not stepping up to the plate," she said.
Sahagun plans to join several other nurses at the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors' meeting next Tuesday to lobby for the county to take responsibility for the hospital. Others plan to speak at the healthcare district board of directors' meeting in San Pablo this afternoon.
However, hospital officials say that keeping Doctors Medical Center open without the parcel tax funding is unlikely.
The hospital has been losing about $18 million each year for several years, although that deficit is only about half the amount the hospital was losing annually in 2006, according to Gioia.
When funding from the state and other hospitals dried up, the healthcare district decided to turn again to the voters, who approved two previous parcel tax measures to provide funding for the hospital in 2007 and 2011.
Despite that support, Doctors Medical Center has continually struggled to stay afloat since the majority of its 40,000 patients annually are Medi-Cal beneficiaries.
"Given its current payer mix, it is never going to break even as a stand-alone hospital," Gioia said.