Doctors Medical Center to begin major reduction in services Aug. 12

West Contra Costa Healthcare District

In the wake of financial woes that have caused an exodus of hospital staff, Doctors Medical Center will begin reducing services starting Aug. 12, the hospital and Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services Agency announced Friday.

On that day, DMC’s emergency cardiac unit to treat heart attack patients, called STEM1, is slated to close. Also, inpatient beds at the hospital will be capped at 50 from about 140, and ambulance service will be diverted to other hospitals, officials said in a statement.

DMC’s emergency department will remain open for walk-in services and will continue to receive transported nursing home patients, the statement said.

The hospital is reportedly working with the county EMS staff and neighboring hospitals to ensure diverted patients receive timely care.

West County residents should not expect response times to change, but their trip might take longer, said Dr. Joe Barger, medical director for Contra Costa EMS.

“Patients who have to travel out of West County for their emergency care will be traveling longer distances,” Barger said.

The adjustments are scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the West Contra Costa Healthcare District Board’s regular meeting.

“These are the changes that we need to start making due to the loss of hospital staff,” said Dawn Gideon, the hospital’s acting CEO.

The 60-year-old DMC currently provides about 80 percent of inpatient hospital capacity and nearly 60-percent of emergency-room care to about 250,000 West County residents. But the hospital has had financial troubles since the 1990s, largely because many of its patients are covered by government plans such as MediCare and Medi-Cal that reimburse hospitals at a significantly lower rate than the cost of services.

In May, the hospital’s future was thrown in doubt after Measure C, a parcel tax to address its $18 million annual deficit, failed to garner support from two-thirds of voters. Since then, workers, nurses and doctors have been leaving DMC in search of stability. Then in June, a so-called Stakeholder Group stacked with the region’s top health professionals was formed to come up with viable solutions.

The Stakeholder Group says it has identified promising alternatives to maintain certain services such as the hospital’s emergency department, which a recent county study deemed as the region’s most pressing need. The alternatives will be presented to the healthcare district board later this summer, health officials said.

“Our intent is to work with our community partners and the California Department of Public Health to maintain a full-service emergency department in the most viable form to serve the needs of the community,” said Dr. William Walker, county health officer and leader of the Stakeholder Group.