Stakeholder group rules out possibility of preserving full-service hospital at Doctors Medical Center

West Contra Costa Healthcare District

An independent team of health care experts on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of preserving a full-service hospital at Doctors Medical Center and called for a full evaluation of alternatives.

In an interim report issued to the West Contra Costa Healthcare District board, Dr. William Walker, director of Contra Costa Health Services and chair of the DMC Stakeholder Group, said a technical and financial review found that even a scaled-down version of a full-service hospital is cost prohibitive.

Walker and the Stakeholder Group urged residents to unite behind alternative solutions. Specifically, the group called for detailed evaluations of a satellite emergency department and an advanced 24-hour urgent care center.

“No one – not the doctors or medical staff, not the other hospitals in the region, not the county, the Healthcare District and certainly not the surrounding community – wants to see Doctors Medical Center close as a full-service hospital,” Walker said in a statement. “But it is critical now that all involved turn their focus and efforts to coming up with an alternative. We need to act quickly.”

Although recent cutbacks and a series of staff reductions have cut operating expenses, hospital management estimates that DMC has only enough cash available to keep its doors open as a full-service hospital through the first quarter of 2015. The hospital continues to lose $16 million to $22 million a year.

The Stakeholder Group interim report marked the first detailed summary of the analysis conducted by the team of health-care legal and financial experts brought together by the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California.

The California Nurses Association and other regional supporters of maintaining DMC as a full-service hospital have held public protests in recent weeks urging the county to assume responsibility for the ailing hospital. But the report includes supporting financial evidence showing the county’s inability to take over DMC, as well as a timeline on efforts taken by the West Contra Costa Healthcare District and the county to prevent DMC from closing.

The Stakeholder report says the group is nonetheless optimistic that a sustainable alternative can be found for West County and is focusing its analysis on two options. One, an enhanced, 24-hour urgent care center with diagnostic capabilities, has emerged as the most promising alternative, having been used successfully in other states. A financial analysis has yet to be complete.

The second, a 24-hour standby emergency department, likely on the license of the county medical center, has the advantage of retaining higher reimbursement rates but faces licensing and regulatory hurdles in the state.

Under either scenario, efforts would be made to reduce the hospital’s debt, which represents about $7 million a year in payments.

The Stakeholder Group expects to submit a final report to the West Contra Costa Healthcare District later this fall.