SAN PABLO -- Efforts by city officials in Richmond and San Pablo, as well as the health care district that manages Doctors Medical Center, appear to be coalescing around Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner's proposed bill aimed at saving the beleaguered hospital by increasing federal reimbursement rates.

Skinner introduced a bill last week that would place DMC into the state's public medical system, which would allow it to receive higher reimbursement rates from government-sponsored plans. That could mean $4 million to $6 million in additional annual revenue, West Contra Costa Healthcare District Chairman Eric Zell said Monday. The bill also includes an infusion of $3 million in state funds in the short term to stave off closure of the hospital, which runs an $18 million annual deficit and could run out of money as soon as October.

Doctors Medical Center is seen in San Pablo on May 7, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)
Doctors Medical Center is seen in San Pablo on May 7, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

"This could be a part of a puzzle of funding that would be needed in the next 30 days to keep us open as a full service facility," Zell said. "We're grateful for the efforts of state legislators."

Zell said the race is on to get the bill through both houses of the Legislature this week before lawmakers begin a September recess.

Skinner said she was prompted to pursue the bill after learning of different reimbursement rates available to public hospitals and that Touro University, which has a campus in Vallejo, may be interested in a partnership with DMC.

"It's worth creating space for this potential lifeline," Skinner said.

Meanwhile, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay is expected to send a letter of support for the effort to the state in the next day or two, said Councilman Jael Myrick.


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San Pablo City Manager Matt Rodriguez announced Monday that the City Council has called a special meeting Tuesday to express its support for the legislation, called AB 39.

"(AB 39) would place Doctors Medical Center into the public medical system as a 'safety net' hospital, which would provide a special designation for DMC to receive substantial financial benefits from the state of California to keep critical care services for West County residents viable, and to provide additional time to explore other long term operating solutions," Rodriguez wrote in an email.

Passage is not assured. The California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems sent a letter to Skinner Aug. 20 opposing the effort to designate DMC a public hospital.

AB 39 would set a "concerning precedent ... without any rationale or analysis regarding how this change will impact the current designated public hospitals in California or improve care for low income residents," wrote CAPH President and CEO Erica Murray.

Earlier this year DMC, which is West Contra Costa's only public hospital and the site of 25 of the 40 emergency room beds in the area, announced a fiscal emergency and moved to cut services. On Aug. 8, it stopped accepting ambulances and reduced the number of inpatient beds to 50. More than 80 workers have resigned, and Zell said 180 more employees have been given notice that they'll be laid off by Sept. 5 without an improvement in the hospital's fiscal crisis.

The main reasons for the hospital's troubles are a payer mix dominated by Medicare, MediCAL and uninsured patients, a problem that has grown worse over the years as more distant hospitals have absorbed more of the patients covered by private insurance.

A 2011 county study concluded that the closure would lead to longer ambulance transport times and longer waits at other hospitals inundated by patients diverted from DMC.

Nurses unions filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month against the county and the health care district to halt the ambulance redirection, arguing that it disproportionately affects seniors, minorities and the poor. The case is set to be heard later this week.

The unions welcomed Skinner's efforts Monday, calling it a "good start."

"Ultimately, the responsibility continues to rest on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, who clearly have the funding that is needed," National Nurses United/California Nurses Association spokesman Charles Idelson wrote in an email.

County officials been steadfast in their contention that they have no surplus funds to subsidize the hospital.

Zell said other options are still on the table, including saving the hospital in its current form, operating it as a stand-alone emergency room or getting a private partner.

"In a vacuum, the bill could help, but it doesn't solve the problem," Zell said. "We have to continue to look for other sources of funding and partnerships."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.