Judge Denies Bid to Restore Ambulance Service to Doctors Medical Center

A federal judge today in San Francisco denied a bid to force Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo to restore services cut in the face of a major deficit.

The order by Judge William Orrick denying a motion for a preliminary injunction came in response to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Aug. 12 by a group of doctors, nurses and community advocates against Contra Costa County and West Contra Costa County Healthcare District officials.

Earlier this month, the hospital, which is faced with an $18 million deficit, stopped accepting emergency ambulances, closed its heart attack intervention unit and reduced its number of inpatient beds to 50, citing staffing reductions and safety concerns.

Emergency ambulances that would normally go to DMC are now re-routed to other area hospitals, while DMC’s emergency room is now limited to walk-in patients.

The hospital has since also closed one surgical unit.

The lawsuit sought to stop the diversion of ambulances from the hospital and restore other service cuts.

While the hospital is run by an independent healthcare district, the lawsuit argued that the county effectively controls the district and, by failing to step in and bail out the hospital, is guilty of discrimination against the predominantly minority patients served by the hospital.

In addition, it is failing to provide prompt services and equal access to care for Medicaid and Medi-Cal patients – which make up about 80 percent of the patient population at DMC.

Orrick’s ruling rejected that argument, finding that the county does not own or operate the hospital and is not required to support the hospital.

Nor did the plaintiffs establish that the county discriminates in its provision of health care, Orrick found.

County officials have maintained that the county isn’t in a financial position to keep the hospital afloat, and has already given more than $30 million over the years to bail the hospital out.

Voters in May 2014 rejected a mail-in parcel tax measure that would have provided $20 million annually for the hospital.

Plans to close the hospital were announced shortly after that election but in June officials said they would search for a way to keep it open.

Eric Zell, the healthcare district board chairman, said “Everyone associated with Doctors Medical Center is trying to do what is best for our patients and for the West County community,”

“We continue to work with all interested parties to keep this hospital open as long as possible and to preserve and provide needed care,” Zell said. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to our patients to deal with the reality of operating a hospital on a day-to-day basis with depleted financial resources and both voluntary and necessary reductions in

East Bay lawmakers are working on legislation that would allow the hospital to collect higher reimbursement amounts for its Medi-Cal patients, and hospital officials say they are evaluating alternative financial models.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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