Health care providers and community members filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday to stop the downsizing and potential closure of Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which is seeing major cuts to staff and services amid longtime financial struggles.
U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick denied a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the diversion of emergency ambulances from DMC, but set a hearing for the case in San Francisco on Aug. 27.
“There is no question that there will be a medical emergency if this hospital closes down and we must do everything in our power to keep it a full service hospital,” said Liz Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.
The lawsuit came a week after the hospital halted emergency ambulance service because of a shrinking emergency room staff.
Last fall, DMC announced a fiscal emergency and planned closure of the hospital and in recent months, at least 88 doctors, nurses and other hospital staffers have left, according to DMC spokesman Chuck Finney.
The lawsuit alleges that cutting services at DMC, West Contra Costa County’s only public hospital, disproportionately affects the area’s seniors and black residents.
The suit also alleges that reduced services and the hospital’s possible closure violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.
Many of the plaintiffs listed in the suit are black residents of West Contra Costa County over 60 years old who suffer from various chronic illnesses, according to the complaint.
Contra Costa County, each member of the county Board of Supervisors, county Health Services director Dr. William Walker, the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District and district board chairman Eric Zell are all named as defendants in the suit.
Neither Walker or Zell could immediately be reached for comment on the litigation today.
“We filed the lawsuit because we needed to take even more immediate action and the parties we believe need to take responsibility were throwing up their hands,” Jacobs said.
The nurses unions said in a statement on Tuesday that the county “has a legal and moral obligation to assume operation of DMC and fully integrate it into the existing Contra Costa County Health System.”
Many West Contra Costa County residents have said they believe the county should take over financial responsibility for the hospital, which is the only medical center in the area providing specialized heart attack and stroke care.
County Health Services officials said last week that the 22 to 24 emergency ambulance patients normally seen at DMC each day — including three to four considered to be in critical condition — are now being diverted to other area hospitals.
The county’s Board of Supervisors in June agreed to grant the hospital a $6 million loan to prevent it from closing completely but said it has too many financial obligations to take on the hospital’s $18 million deficit.
The budget deficit stems from a patient population of mostly uninsured or Medi-Cal recipients at DMC, according to county officials.