Judge won't restore ambulance service to Calif. hospital
A group of nurses and patients committed to keeping hte hospital open filed a lawsuit claiming budget cuts that have led closures are unnecessary and discriminate against the disabled, poor and elderly
By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN PABLO, Calif. — A federal judge refused Tuesday to restore emergency ambulance service or stop further cutbacks at cash-strapped Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which faces closure by the end of the year.
The hospital, the largest in west Contra Costa County, was dealt a severe financial blow in May when county voters rejected a $20 million parcel tax increase. With deficits mounting and employees leaving in increasing numbers, the hospital stopped accepting emergency ambulance service last Thursday, has reduced in-patient beds to 40 and plans to close an emergency cardiac unit in mid-September.
A group of nurses and patients filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming the impending cuts are unnecessary and discriminate against the disabled, the poor and the elderly. In court, attorney Pamela Price argued that hospital officials are refusing to assign available nurses to emergency departments.
"Nurses are committed to keeping the facility open," Price said. "This is a man-made crisis. ... We believe that if the administration were to make the effort to bring staff in that's available, there would be no problem" in staying open.
Doug Straus, a lawyer for the West Contra Costa County Health Care District, countered that the hospital is doing everything it can to maintain services.
"The hospital does not have the ability to provide those services in a safe and lawful manner," he said. "We don't know how many nurses we're going to have tomorrow. ... They're finding other jobs," and those who remain lack needed specialized training, he said.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick denied a restraining order that would have required the hospital to resume emergency ambulance service and halted further reductions. He said the hospital board has been forced to make cutbacks by the defeat of the tax measure, which led to safety concerns and staffing shortages.
The plaintiffs will seek to present more evidence to justify court intervention at a hearing Aug. 27.
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