State senate passes bill that could stop closure of Alta Bates

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The California State Senate passed SB 687 on Wednesday, which will prevent nonprofit hospitals from closing emergency rooms without permission from the state attorney general.

The Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, which houses Berkeley’s only emergency room, announced last year its plans to close and relocate its services to an Oakland campus by 2030.

According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Alta Bates currently does not need permission from the city to close down its emergency room. If SB 687 becomes law, however, Alta Bates would have to hold a public hearing prior to closing its emergency department.

California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who introduced SB 687, said East Bay communities were “seriously hurt” by the 2015 closure of the Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo. If Alta Bates were to close as well, Skinner said, there would be “a hospital desert from Rodeo to Emeryville.”

“California has experienced many hospital closures up and down the state, especially in rural areas.” Skinner said. “California has the lowest number of emergency beds per capita of any state in the country.”

Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution April 25 supporting Skinner’s bill. Arreguín said City Council is working to prevent the closure of Alta Bates, adding that he has created a task force that includes Alameda County and Contra Costa County officials in an effort to keep Alta Bates open.

City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said in an emailed statement the closure of Alta Bates would affect the entire Bay Area, including the “medically underserved” West Contra Costa County region.

Berkeley is on the cusp of losing its only emergency room,” Bartlett’s statement read. “We take the prospect of a health desert very seriously and my office is committed to ensuring that at least one emergency room remains open in Berkeley.”

City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said the city of Berkeley is subject to extreme natural disasters, including earthquakes on the Hayward Fault and fires on the Berkeley Hills, and emergency services can be “critical” during those times.

According to Hahn, Berkeley transports more than 5,000 patients to Alta Bates per year. Hahn said if Alta Bates were to move to Oakland, transport times for emergency and nonemergency transit would increase by about 25 minutes for those patients.

Arreguín added Alta Bates’ potential closure could have a significant impact on campus students. Since the campus does not have emergency rooms, according to Arreguín, students would have to travel even farther for those services if Alta Bates were to close.

California State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond said in an emailed statement he hopes SB 687 is successful.

“We can’t continue to medically displace people from our district,” Thurmond’s statement read. “Access to health care is a human right.”

Contact Jamari Snipes at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JamariSnipes.