Berkeley residents may soon have to travel to Oakland for health emergencies as the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on Ashby Avenue will close its doors by 2030.
Senate Bill 1953, a state law passed in 1994, requires that all hospital buildings be retrofitted by 2030 in order to withstand major earthquakes. The Ashby campus of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center — which is owned by Sutter Health — has been declared seismically unfit and therefore its services will be relocated to Oakland, said spokesperson Jill Antonides in an email.
Sutter Health determined that it would be more practical to move Alta Bates to Oakland than to completely renovate the campus, Antonides said in an email. She added that a complete renovation would result in loss of care to the community for a decade.
“If Alta Bates closes, there will not be a hospital between Richmond and Downtown Oakland,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “The health and safety of our residents are at risk.”
The potential changes to the Alta Bates Ashby campus were discussed March 29 at a Berkeley City Council meeting, which passed an item calling for the Disaster and Fire Safety and Community Health Commissions to evaluate potential community impacts resulting from the move.
Dave Brannigan — assistant chief of special operations at the Berkeley Fire Department and secretary of the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission — stated that the move of these emergency services would require patients to be transported to Oakland for treatment.
Alta Bates does provide occasional ambulance services to patients; however, the health center often forwards emergencies to Berkeley Fire Department, stated Brannigan. After the move, Brannigan said the fire department ambulances’ trip to the Oakland facility would be 24 minutes longer.
“So in effect, they’re cost cutting by closing their services but shifting the cost to the public by asking our ambulances to take their patients to another hospital,” Brannigan said. “From our perspective, anywhere closer than Oakland is better.”
Antonides said in an email, however, that the Summit campus in Oakland is in close proximity to the Berkeley campus, as it is less than three miles away.
The Sutter Health Board of Directors approved $190 million in funding to expand the Oakland facility to include a number of services — including the emergency department — and begin the transition of all time-sensitive care services, explained Antonides.
Antonides emphasized that Sutter Health intends to utilize Berkeley as a hub for ambulatory, or outpatient, care.
“Sutter Health is committed to keeping a strong medical presence in Berkeley,” Antonides said in an email.
The surrounding neighborhood is concerned about the future use of the Alta Bates site and how it will impact the neighborhood regarding traffic, parking and noise, said Lucy Smallsreed, president of the Bateman Neighborhood Association. She added that these concerns have been “an ongoing problem” with the current facility.
Arreguin said Sutter’s decision was made without consultation with the city of Berkeley, nurses or other stakeholders in the city, which he deemed “unacceptable.”
Both Brannigan and Arreguin said that the ideal scenario would be for Sutter Health to keep emergency services open in Berkeley.