On behalf of the 3,500 members of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, I am writing to share the medical community's grave concern over the possible closure of several East Bay hospitals.
Limitations in the existing hospital bed capacity in the East Bay have physicians concerned that any further loss in the capacity could pose a public health threat to this community.
Physicians' concerns about hospital capacity are the result of observations about the limitations in our local system during this time of year, when the flu and other seasonal viruses spike demand for medical care.
We are seeing hospitals that are full or near capacity, precious intensive care capacity that is maxed out, emergency departments diverting ambulances elsewhere, and patients stacking up in hospital hallways.
Imagine if this were a severe flu season, or if a multi-casualty disaster were to occur locally.
These existing threats to our ability to respond to additional health care needs are troubling enough. But they become even more concerning when considering the significant increase in demand for health care that will be triggered by a significant expansion in health care coverage through the Medi-Cal program and the health insurance exchange starting next January when health reform is fully implemented.
Moreover, we are facing an aging population and further growth in the number of patients suffering from chronic diseases that require ongoing care. We simply cannot afford to lose any hospital beds in the East Bay.
News articles are being published with increasing frequency about the local hospitals that are facing the threat of closure. Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo reports it may have to close within the year due to financial losses.
St. Rose Hospital in Hayward could not find a successor owner willing to assume its debt, and it has consequently engaged a management company to try to address its deficit and keep the doors open.
San Leandro Hospital is threatened with closure by its owner -- Sutter Health.
The common thread affecting all these facilities is the significant amount of services provided to uninsured patients and patients insured by the Medi-Cal and Medicare programs.
After years of budget-driven cost cutting that fails to account for increased demand for care, the Medicare and Medi-Cal programs fail to adequately pay for care provided to patients covered by those programs.
Moreover, no relief for these beleaguered hospitals can be expected from implementation of health care reform next year because they will be faced with even more patients to serve at a financial loss through the Medi-Cal and Medicare programs. On top of this, the "sequester" is projected to cost hospitals $3 billion more nationwide.
Our community and our elected officials need to work together to see that no stone is left unturned to keep these hospitals open. We simply cannot lose any more hospital beds in the East Bay.
Jeffrey Klingman, MD, is president of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association