State Sen. Nancy Skinner authors bill to limit hospital closures

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California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced a Senate bill Feb. 17 that aims to prevent the closures of hospitals across the state at a time when Berkeley’s only emergency center is set to close by 2030.

The bill, SB 687, would mandate that nonprofit hospitals receive approval from the state attorney general before being able to close their emergency departments. Under the bill, the attorney general would assess the potential impacts a closure would have on access to health care services in the community before providing or withholding consent to carry out the closure.

“Closing hospitals and emergency rooms worsen health outcomes and increase deaths,” Skinner said at a press conference Monday to garner support for the bill. “There’s longer wait times for services, there’s longer distances and time for ambulance travel, there’s overcrowding in the facilities.”

The Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, which contains the only emergency center in the city, is set to close by 2030, and services will be moved to the Oakland campus. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who voiced his support for the bill at the press conference, said he believes SB 687 could serve as an “essential tool” to prevent the closure of Alta Bates’ Berkeley campus.

“The announced closure of Alta Bates hospital on the city of Berkeley will put thousands of people throughout (the) I-80 corridor at risk,” Arreguín said at the press conference. “Imagine traveling to the emergency room at rush hour on I-80 if you have to go to Summit in downtown Oakland. That is going to put people’s lives at risk.”

Arreguín added that Berkeley City Council plans to endorse the bill at its March 14 meeting.

According to a statement from Alta Bates, the decision to move services to the Summit campus in Oakland was based on trends showing a decrease in hospital stays and the center not meeting California’s seismic requirements.

“We’re aware of Senator Skinner’s legislation,” the statement said. “We’ve shared our long range plans with the Senate and all of our Berkeley and Oakland elected officials, and we hope to have many more opportunities to brief them as we move ahead over the next decade.”

State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond said at the press conference that if the bill were to be passed, it would also require Alta Bates to hold a public hearing for the community about the center’s closure, which has not yet occurred.

The California Nurses Association does not yet have a position on the bill, according to communications director Charles Idelson.

Various patients and healthcare professionals at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, California, which closed in 2015, spoke at the press conference in support of the bill. They explained how the loss of the center had put many of their patients’ and loved ones’ lives at risk.

Skinner estimated that the bill will go to committee by mid-March.

Contact Sydney Fix at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.