Hospital employees disrupt Berkeley City Council special meeting

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Francesca Ledsema/File

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Berkeley City Council’s special meeting Tuesday concerning health equity was interrupted by frustrated Alta Bates Summit Medical Center employees, who were advocating for the council to vote to officially oppose the closure of the hospital.

During the special meeting, City Council discussed providing equal health opportunities to all people within the city of Berkeley, with various experts in public health sharing insight into different Berkeley programs that are working to promote access to health resources. Toward the end of the meeting, the hall’s chambers were filled with chants from hospital employees coming from outside the building, including shouts of “save Alta Bates.”

According to Eric Coch, who has been a nurse at Alta Bates for the past 15 years, the possibility of the hospital closing down poses a “great endangerment” to the city of Berkeley.

“We’re filled all the time,” Coch said of the hospital at the meeting. “We have (the maximum) number of patients all the time. What’s going to happen?”

Sutter Health — which owns the medical center — decided to shut down Alta Bates because of its seismically unfit structure. The protesters gathered outside Old City Hall in regards to the council’s vote on Sutter Health’s closing of the hospital, which the council unanimously decided to oppose during its regular meeting.

Wm. Jahmal Miller, deputy director for California’s Office of Health Equity, took time during the meeting to acknowledge the protesters’ efforts and draw attention to public health problems more generally.

“Public health is often thought of last,” Miller said at the meeting, “and when it comes to cuts, thought of first.”

Janet Berreman, the city director of public health, emphasized that it is important to pay close attention to the people of Berkeley in order to understand the full scope of health equity. Additionally, she stressed that limited resources play a role in how effective the Public Health Division can be in mitigating the health disparity in the city.

Ayanna Davis, program director of Healthy Black Families, stressed the importance of the community working closely with the council in order to ensure equality of health practices in Berkeley. She added that though the community of Berkeley is far from providing each citizen with adequate health care, “together we can work” to improve health outcomes.

Councilmember Max Anderson noted that Berkeley has seen a large “exodus” of Black and other minority communities away from the city, which he attributed in part to its lack of health resources. He challenged the council to address larger issues such as institutional racism to the extent that they impact public health.

“If racism, institutional racism is at the heart of this issue, then we have a lot of work to do in this city,” Anderson said.

Contact Kailey Martinez-Ramage at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kmartinezramage.