SAN PABLO -- Doctors Medical Center is exploring options to sell its hospital property as it prepares for closure or further service cuts, and the entity likely to pay the highest price is the casino next door.
The property discussions were revealed in an email, obtained by this newspaper from a representative of the California Nurses Association, between hospital CEO Dawn Gideon and members of the West Contra Costa Healthcare District board. The nurses union would not say who sent the email, but a spokesman for the hospital's administration confirmed its authenticity.
"It is widely believed that the Casino would likely pay the highest price for the property, but we need to explore all avenues," Gideon wrote in the email. "In the interim, we are working with the Casino on the completion of asbestos and hazardous waste surveys that may impact the sales price."
The Lytton Tribe runs the San Pablo Casino next to the hospital and paid $4.6 million in June to lease parking in the back of the hospital. According to an attorney for the tribe, it is always interested in nearby properties.
"There have been talks with Dawn (Gideon), but there's nothing concrete," said Larry Stidham, the tribe's general counsel. Stidham said that if the tribe purchased the property it would not necessarily be for the purpose of expanding the casino. "There are a host of reasons we might want it," he said. "It doesn't have to be related to game." The tribe owns a building on the other side of the casino that is leased for business offices, Stidham pointed out.
"The leadership of DMC has been fighting for a decade to keep the hospital open," said hospital spokesman Chuck Finnie. "They are doing everything they can to preserve cash and expenses while sill holding out for a miracle to save the hospital."
In early August, the once full-service hospital shut its doors to emergency ambulance traffic and since then has been closing departments and scaling back services. Gideon wrote in the letter that inpatient occupancy has dropped to an average of 20 to 30 patients, down from 70 to 75 in June and July.
As a result of the reduction, Gideon estimates the hospital will likely stay open until the end of the year, "...significantly beyond the Oct. 3 dates where we would have previously run out of cash."
While the hospital administration and its governing board look for alternatives, such as converting DMC to an urgent care or satellite emergency department, many doctors and nurses continue to fight to keep it fully operational. District representatives and county officials say that may be impossible because of the hospital's $18 million annual deficit, driven mostly by the fact that 80 percent of its patients use Medicare or Medi-Cal, which pay lower reimbursement rates than private insurers.
"Just because they keep saying they're going to shut it down, doesn't mean we stop fighting," said Martha Walker, with National Nurses United. To that end, two nurses unions are holding a protest Friday morning on San Pablo Avenue, between DMC and the casino, where they will demand county officials "step up" to save the hospital.