Leaders of Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo plan to eliminate 16 positions and take other steps to cope with a nearly $1.5 million monthly loss, but have no immediate plan to close the hospital, which is considered an important part of the health care safety net in the region.

Rumors have swirled that because of its financial difficulties, Doctors would shut down by June, but its leaders say those rumors are false.

"We're not in closure mode -- we're in survival mode," said Eric Zell, who heads the hospital's governing board.

Doctors, which has struggled financially for years, treats large numbers of uninsured patients and low-income people on Medi-Cal.

It operates the only full-service emergency department along the Interstate 80 corridor between Berkeley and Vallejo.

The hospital lost nearly $19 million in 2011 and $17.5 million in 2012.

Its budget for this year, approved by the board in January, includes a $9 million loss. So hospital leaders are seeking ways to fill an $8 million to $10 million gap through a combination of layoffs, cuts and revenue enhancements.

"The hospital has to act aggressively to change its structure and model," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, vice chairman of the hospital board. "But we remain optimistic. The goal continues to be to bring the gap down far enough to make it easier to find partners."


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Talks with one potential partner -- Avanti Hospitals in Southern California -- "have slowed down, but they haven't died," said Dawn Gideon, Doctors' interim chief executive officer. Avanti does not want to decide now, but it remains open to future discussions, she said.

Gideon has been holding town hall meetings with hospital employees to dispel some of the rumors, including that large numbers of layoffs are on the horizon.

About 22 people will lose their jobs, including three nonsupervisory registered nurses, among 1,000 full- and part-time employees. All of these positions "have been discussed with the unions," she said.

The hospital will also add six new positions, including a person to work with doctors on using electronic medical records. That will mean a net loss of 16 positions.

Gideon said hospital leaders are exploring new programs that might help increase the number of patients, including whether to set up an acute rehabilitation unit in an available space."I'm looking every day for a way to close the $10 million gap," she said. "I am talking with a number of area providers about how we can work together to gain greater efficiencies."

Gideon said she has contacted Lex Reddy, the new president and chief executive officer of St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, another financially struggling hospital, to see if the two organizations might be able to team up on such needs as recruiting physicians.

Such discussions are preliminary, but Zell, who heads Doctors governing board, said he will recuse himself if an agreement involving Reddy comes before the board.

Reddy, the former CEO of Prime Healthcare Services in Southern California, hired Zell for about 30 days to introduce him to leaders in the Hayward area. Zell, a government relations consultant, declined to reveal how much Reddy paid him.

Zell issued a news release on Reddy's behalf earlier this month when the state attorney general approved Reddy's management-with-an-option-to-buy agreement at St. Rose.

Zell said he no longer works for Reddy and said he made it clear when Reddy first contacted him that he would not advocate on Reddy's behalf in any discussions with Doctors Medical Center.

Sandy Kleffman covers health. Contact her at 510-293-2478. Follow her at Twitter.com/skleffman.