Saving A Hospital while Saving A Community

Saving A Hospital while Saving A Community

Doctors Medical Center near Richmond, Ca could close this year if new funding doesn't materialize soon, and officials warn that the results would be catastrophic for West County including predicted emergency wait times of as long as 10 hours if the 41,000-plus annual visits to Doctors' emergency room are diverted elsewhere.
Doctors Medical Center is another victim of a radically changed health care system that has largely stripped public hospitals of their most profitable patients. Hospital leaders and health industry experts also say the Affordable Care Act has exacerbated the short-term funding problems by driving down reimbursement rates for Medicare but that it could also fast-track the search for a lifesaving partnership. "It's really a matter of life or death," said Eric Zell, chairman of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which runs the hospital. "Doctors here at DMC see patients every day who would not otherwise survive."
The hospital, which projects a $16 million deficit this year, serves as the largest emergency room in West County and a destination for residents of all backgrounds when they suffer heart attacks and strokes, and time is often the difference between life and death, or severe, permanent injury. "Across California, there are a number of hospitals that are looking at their future, and particularly at risk are those that are independent, without affiliations with larger systems," said Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association. "Hospitals are facing $23 billion in government payment cuts through 2020, so independent safety net hospitals that don't have the large number of private payers face a huge challenge." "It's a tough situation," said Dylan Roby of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. "In low-income districts, district hospitals play a dual role; they need to get private insurance patients and also need to provide for the indigent patients that get low reimbursement rates." If DMC closes, the results would be "catastrophic" to the region, according to a 2011 report commissioned by Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services.
The only other emergency room in West Contra Costa is Kaiser Richmond, which has only 15 emergency beds compared with 25 at DMC. In a twist, the surrounding hospitals that drew away the best-paying customers would be inundated with the ones they left to DMC. Those same hospitals are key to whether DMC can survive in the short term. "These other hospitals that would be inundated get a tax break for being nonprofit status," Gioia said. "They have stepped up with funds in the past, but the question is whether they will step up now."