San Pablo's Doctors Medical Center to Close Tuesday

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The emergency room at San Pablo's Doctors Medical Center will close permanently Tuesday at 7a.m., ending all patient care at the hospital. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)
The emergency room at San Pablo's Doctors Medical Center will close permanently Tuesday at 7 a.m., ending all patient care at the hospital. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

By Sara Hossaini

As Doctors Medical Center wellness director Tracy Taylor walks down the hospital's long white halls, the first thing she mentions is just how strange it feels.

"It is very quiet, it feels very eerie and very different," says Taylor.

DMC reluctantly closes its doors Tuesday after failing to find a solution to its financial woes.

The hospital began shutting things down -- department by department -- over the past couple of weeks after leaders said they had run out of viable options for bridging a stubborn $18-20 million annual deficit -- something they blame on low Medi-Cal and Medicare reimbursement rates.

The emergency room, which began diverting ambulances last August, will close completely at 7 a.m. Tuesday, permanently shutting down all patient care at the hospital. Some business functions, including medical records, will stay open for a few more weeks.

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Taylor points to one of the last open units.

"So this is our HBO area -- and that's not to watch television, but it's hyperbaric medicine," she says.

Patients with diabetes or who are recovering from cancer treatment come here to get oxygen therapy.

Cheri Fraga has been coming every day for a few weeks to treat complications from a bone infection.

"I think it's sad" the hospital is closing, Fraga says.

As Fraga wraps up her final treatment at the center, she said she's not sure where she'll go if she ever needs help again.

"I have asthma, emphysema, I've had to come to emergency multiple times," says Fraga, "And if they weren't here, I don't know what I would have done. Probably would have died."

Her nurse, 27-year veteran Bary Green, says the contractor that runs his department hopes to reestablish locally, but without the hospital to anchor it, that could prove difficult.

"This is going to become a medical desert very quickly because if the physicians don't have the support services of a local hospital, they're not gonna stay," says Green.

Both Green and Taylor are worried about patients that they say often can't leave.

"It worries me because I live in this community," says Taylor, "that come rush hour if I had an emergency, it's a long ride to another emergency room."

To help fill the void, LifeLong Medical Care is adding urgent care services to its Brookside Health Center in San Pablo. It opens Monday and will serve people with conditions like asthma, broken bones and infections.

West Contra Costa County has a health care resource list in English and Spanish for displaced local residents.