Berkeley City Council Unanimously Opposes Alta Bates Hospital Closure

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Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.  (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Update July 13, 2016: The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved the resolution opposing the closure of the Alta Bates hospital and emergency room at Tuesday night's meeting.

Original Post:

Three members of the Berkeley City Council are backing a resolution to oppose the planned closure of the Alta Bates Medical Center emergency room and inpatient hospital. The full council will vote on the issue at its meeting Tuesday night.

Sutter Health, which owns Alta Bates, said last fall that it would close the acute care  hospital and emergency department sometime before 2030. That's when tough California seismic standards kick in.  Sutter said it would consolidate emergency and inpatient services at its Oakland Summit Medical Center and make Alta Bates an outpatient hub.

"Sutter made this decision unilaterally without consulting the city of Berkeley," said council member Jessie Arreguin, one of the authors of the resolution. "We need to speak out, and we need to fight back."

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In a statement, Sutter says the closure of the hospital and ER "is not new information. We began discussion about this important transition with civic leaders several years ago."

Alta Bates maintains the only emergency department in Berkeley, but ramification of its closure would be felt well beyond the city's borders. Last year Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo closed, including its inpatient hospital and emergency department. People north of Berkeley to Vallejo had relied on this safety-net hospital.

If Alta Bates were to close, that would leave Kaiser Richmond with the only emergency room between Richmond and Oakland.

Arreguin said he wants to work with Sutter to try to find a solution to keep Alta Bates open.  He said he supports efforts to try to retrofit the existing hospital to meet the new standards.

"But it's going to take building a broad coalition," he said, "and we need to start that process."

Berkeley council members Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson are co-authors with Arreguin of the draft resolution to be introduced tonight, which says in part:

(T)he Mayor and City Council of the City of Berkeley oppose Sutter Health Corporation’s plan to close its acute care services at Alta Bates Hospital and calls upon Sutter Health to cease and desist all actions in furtherance of any and all plans to close Alta Bates.

The resolution further hints at possible legal action, saying that the mayor and council "request the City Attorney to investigate the actions taken by Sutter Health and initiate proceedings, whenever warranted, under relevant statues."

In its statement, Sutter said it is "committed to a strong medical presence in the City of Berkeley," but that "increasing demand for outpatient services and procedures decreases the need for inpatient care."

Sutter's Summit Medical Center and Alta Bates are three miles apart. Sutter said that "if we are to remain viable as an organization and affordable to our patients, we cannot operate two full-service hospitals" in such close proximity.