Dr. Sharon Drager: The End of Doctors Medical Center

blogimage.jpgDoctors Medical Center in San Pablo is slated to close in July.

Most of the discussion before the vote on the parcel tax stressed the importance of the Emergency Department and the availability of timely cardiac and stroke care for residents of West Contra Costa County, but there are other reasons the loss of the hospital will be a catastrophe.

The hospital has a nationally recognized cancer center. With the closure, residents of the district will be unable to get chemotherapy or radiation therapy close to home, and will have to travel long distances, sometimes daily, to receive treatment.

There are many medically fragile people who live in the district. For example, there are three dialysis units in West Contra Costa County that provide life-saving treatment for more than 300 patients with end-stage renal disease. These individuals have many medical problems, and often require hospitalization. They must always go to hospitals that provide inpatient dialysis services. When DMC closes, these chronically ill people will have to go to hospitals far from their homes. Interestingly, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center has never provided inpatient dialysis care. When I’ve asked officials there why not, I’ve been told that it’s “too expensive.”

 There are also a significant number of skilled nursing facilities and convalescent homes near DMC. Their elderly and frail residents will have to take long ambulance rides for care; friends and families of these people may well find it hard to visit and spend time with their loved ones when they’re hospitalized out of the community.

DMC employs more than 900 people. The day the hospital closes, these people will be out of work. Other medical facilities are feeling the financial pinch too, so there is no guarantee that all of these friends and neighbors will find new employment easily. For instance, Sutter recently announced the elimination of more than 300 positions at Alta Bates/Summit. It has often been shown that the closure of a hospital has a serious impact on the economic health of the surrounding community and many businesses will be negatively impacted.

When DMC closes, many of the medical practices in West Contra Costa County will quickly disappear. Primary care physicians can practice anywhere, but specialists who care for hospitalized patients want offices reasonably near a hospital where they do their work.  Fighting traffic on the freeway to get to a geographically distant office is a lot different than running across the street to see a patient who needs a last-minute urgent visit. My office will soon be opposite a dead hospital.  Inexorably, the medical community will wither away.

Hospital care is expensive, and many hospitals that are not located in wealthy suburban communities are financially challenged.  I love practicing in our community because I get to meet and treat people across the socioeconomic spectrum from millionaires to the homeless. My family and I have been patients at DMC; my children were born at DMC. It’s impossible for me to believe that in 21st century California, our large urban community will be without hospital services.

Dr. Sharon Drager, Doctors Medical Center Governing Board Member

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