Alta Bates Summit Medical Center to close radiation oncology department

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Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s radiation oncology department, which housed the first TomoTherapy machine in the East Bay, the “preferred” radiation treatment for complex tumors, is set to close July 14.

“The decision is based on several years of declining patient volume,” the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center said in an emailed statement. “This service is available to patients at other nearby locations in the community.”

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center radiation oncology physician Valery Uhl said the radiation oncology department employees first found out about the closure through the California Nurses Association union, not the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

Uhl said that the closure announcement left her in “total shock,” as it was sudden and there was no prior discussion with the Summit Medical Center. Uhl added that she has yet to be officially informed by Alta Bates.

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center radiation oncology registered nurse Sharon Dunn said the center serves up to 40 patients per day, treating many different kinds of cancer such as neck cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer.

According to Uhl, patients can go to other nearby hospitals, such as the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, UCSF in San Francisco, John Muir Mt. Diablo Health in Walnut Creek, Epic Care in Emeryville and the Herrick Campus of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

Dunn said that although there are other treatment centers, they do not provide the same treatments that the radiation oncology center in Oakland provides.

“I find that my patients don’t want to go to Berkeley or Emeryville,” Uhl said. “Trying to get to a place that doesn’t have easy access (by public transportation) is a real hardship.”

Uhl said she is seeing patients coming in that did not know the radiation oncology center is closing.

“I think it’s a horrible disservice to the community,” California Nurses Association labor representative Jackie Dragon said. “These are people fighting for their lives who depend on the ability to receive care at Summit Medical Center.”

Dragon said the center’s closure will remove access to the only “quality” TomoTherapy in the East Bay. She added that the union asked Summit Medical Center why they are closing the radiation oncology center, but they did not respond.

Uhl said the staff at the radiation oncology center would have difficulty finding jobs elsewhere within 60 days. She added that the hospital has not yet formally notified the staff of the closure, which she considers to be “very unprofessional.”

According to Dragon, the community is petitioning and calling on Alta Bates Summit Medical Center CEO Chuck Prosper to keep the oncology center running.

“(TomoTherapy) is the treatment that you would want if you are fighting for your life, and Summit is taking that away,” Dragon said.

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