RICHMOND -- With West Contra Costa's only public hospital in danger of closing, pressure is building to find outside funding sources before Doctors Medical Center runs out of money.
On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council urged Kaiser Permanente to provide emergency funding to keep the San Pablo hospital open this year.
"West County will have a health crisis if we close," said Eric Zell, board chairman of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which owns and operates the hospital. "We are not crying wolf."
The five present council members voted to support a resolution that calls on Kaiser to provide bridge funding to DMC to maintain operations until a new institutional partner can be secured. Without funding, the hospital could close by May.
"Doctors Medical Center is a vital part of our community's medical safety net," said Councilman Jim Rogers, one of the resolution's co-sponsors. "We are very concerned."
The West Contra Costa Healthcare District board declared a fiscal emergency for the hospital in November.
At the time, interim hospital CEO Dawn Gideon said Doctors has been hemorrhaging $1.5 million per month for the past two years and faces a growing deficit crisis that requires deep cuts, new funding streams and partnerships with other hospitals to avert closure.
The Richmond resolution has no power to force any action.
DMC spokeswoman Remy Goldsmith said hospital officials have been exploring "all potential (funding) sources, including Kaiser, John Muir Medical Center, the county and other private sources." One possibility is a partnership with UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco.
"But it will take at least 18 months for anything to be codified with any strategic partner," Goldsmith said. "To get to that point, we need funding."
The hospital, which mostly cares for MediCal and Medicare patients, has been in financial turmoil for years. In the past decade, Kaiser has already given the hospital about $13 million to sustain operations, and county voters approved parcel taxes to support DMC in 2004 and 2012, Zell said.
In a funding proposal sent to Kaiser in November, Zell requested up to $20 million from the Kaiser Foundation to continue operations while exploring a potential partnership with UCSF.
Kaiser Permanente spokesman Jessie Mangaliman released a statement Tuesday saying the hospital is "currently evaluating that request."
Mangaliman added that Kaiser Permanente shares "a mutual concern about access to care for underserved residents of Richmond and West Contra Costa County" and has provided financial support to DMC in the past.
DMC has 25 emergency room beds, and Kaiser has 15, according to county Supervisor John Gioia, who also urged Richmond to pass the resolution.
John Muir Health spokesman Ben Drew said Wednesday his agency gave $3 million to Doctors Medical between 2008 and 2010. He said John Muir has not been contacted by DMC for additional funding.
DMC released a statement Tuesday saying it "welcomes the city of Richmond's support during this time and appreciates the efforts of Richmond's City Council to raise awareness about the severity of our situation."
The city's resolution notes that 38 percent of DMC's patients are Richmond residents.
"DMC is the only public, safety net hospital in western Contra Costa County," the agenda report reads. "Its closure would significantly impact the community and the wait times at Kaiser Richmond."
Kaiser operates the only other emergency room in West County.
DMC, which receives more than 40,000 emergency room patients annually, faces a $16 million budget shortfall this year, Goldsmith said. DMC officials are expected to give a report to San Pablo's leaders on Tuesday, San Pablo City Manager Matt Rodriguez said.
"DMC is the city's largest employer and provides essential medical services to many uninsured residents in our community," Rodriguez said, adding that he supports a long-term partnership between the hospital and UCSF.
Zell said the hospital board must decide within 30 days whether to forge ahead or begin preparations for closure.
DMC's closure could mean significant increases in emergency room wait times, said Councilman Jael Myrick, and lives could potentially be imperiled.
"It could be the difference between life and death," Myrick said.