Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), healthcare and public safety professionals, patients and local elected officials gathered to support Skinner’s legislation, SB 687, aimed at limiting the closure of full service hospitals.
“When hospitals and emergency rooms close patients pay the price with longer wait times and decreased health outcomes,” said Senator Skinner. “My legislation will create a layer of protection for the health of our communities.”
The proposed law would require non-profit hospitals in California to obtain approval from the state Attorney General before closing its emergency department, and to hold at least one public hearing about the planned closure.
The bill directs the Attorney General to consider impacts a closure would have on the availability or accessibility of health care services. Existing law only requires a hospital planning to close its emergency department to provide 90-day notice to the California Department of Public Health.
“California is already the state with the fewest emergency departments per capita; further emergency room closures put all Californians at risk,” stated Skinner.
California experienced a 12 percent reduction in hospital emergency departments despite a 27 percent increase in visits between 1996 to 2009. Studies evaluating the impacts of hospital closures show that loss of hospital emergency departments increase the risk of death by 15% for patients in the affected area who have a stroke or heart attack.
Hospital closures have had a particularly large impact on California’s rural areas. The Central Valley and rural regions north of Sacramento to the Oregon border have experienced more than a dozen hospital closures since the early 2000s.
Closer to home, the 2015 closure of San Pablo’s Doctors Medical Center left thousands of residents in West Contra Costa County with only one full service hospital, the 50 bed Kaiser Richmond facility. While northern Alameda County residents fare better, currently having access to at least six hospitals with emergency room services, Berkeley’s Alta Bates hospital is now scheduled to close by 2030.
Skinner said the legislation’s objective to ensure that necessary hospital and emergency services are accessible to communities throughout the state.
“Access to necessary hospital services is essential to the health and safety of our residents and our communities,” Skinner stated “the Legislature needs to do everything it can to prevent hospital deserts, SB 687 is one tool to help us achieve that goal.”
Former Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, who was both a nurse and a patient at Doctor’s Medical Center, shared her story of having to rush to an alternative hospital when facing an emergency on the same day that Doctor’s Medical closed in 2015. Richmond resident
Connie Taylor-Smith shared her daughter’s experience of enduring long wait times at Alta Bates following the closure of Doctor’s Medical.
Former Doctor’s Medical Dr. Desmond Carson spoke emphatically of the medical risks imposed upon patients due hospital closures.
“When hospitals and emergency rooms close, the pre-hospital costs go up for local jurisdictions and access to care is delayed for patients in need,” stated Berkeley Firefighter Colin Arnold.