Nurses are leading the charge to "Save Alta Bates." They rallied at Old City Hall on Tuesday night. Photo: Andy Katz
Nurses are leading the charge to “Save Alta Bates.” They rallied at Old City Hall on Tuesday night. Photo: Andy Katz
Nurses are leading the charge to “Save Alta Bates.” They rallied at Old City Hall on Tuesday night. Photo: Andy Katz

“We have a real problem and it’s a regional problem,” said Mayor Tom Bates on Tuesday night amid a brief discussion by the Berkeley City Council related to plans by Sutter Health to move inpatient services to Oakland, leaving Berkeley services focused on outpatient care.

Council voted unanimously in support of a resolution to oppose “plans to cease operations at Alta Bates.” Berkeleyside first reported on the potential closure of Alta Bates in April 2015.

Sutter Health said in a July 12 memo to the city that state seismic laws “require us to reevaluate the inpatient, acute care services at Berkeley’s Alta Bates campus before 2030.” According to the memo, “rebuilding on the current site is not feasible.”

Sutter Health says it remains “committed to a strong medical presence” in Berkeley as the “center for outpatient care in the East Bay.” 

Sutter says it’s not efficient to have two full-service hospitals less than 3 miles apart: Alta Bates, at 2450 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley and Summit at 250 Hawthorne Ave. in Oakland.

According to the resolution approved Wednesday night, Sutter has nearly 350 acute care beds in Berkeley. Council members expressed concern about the lack of beds available to patients in the East Bay, particularly if those Berkeley beds are lost, noting that “the national average for bed capacity per 1000 residents is 2.9 beds according to World Bank statistics. In Alameda County, the bed capacity is at 1.8 beds and neighboring Contra Costa at 1.4 beds, a figure that does not reflect the final phase of the 2015 closure of Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo.”

Read the complete resolution.

Community members have expressed frustration that Sutter Health — which has reportedly seen increasing assets since 2011, from nearly $12 billion that year to more than $14 billion last year — would be unable to continue to operate Alta Bates.

In its July 12 memo, Sutter Health said the resolution “contains numerous inaccuracies and draws conclusions about future healthcare delivery not supported by the facts.”

The resolution passed on consent Tuesday night and did not involve extensive discussion. But Mayor Bates tried to reassure those in attendance — including many local nurses — that he was staying on top of the issue.

Bates said he has invited Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia and hospital representatives from Sutter, Kaiser and Children’s to meet to discuss the issue further. That meeting could take place in early August.

Bates said Sutter and Children’s had already agreed to participate, and that Kaiser had expressed “some interest.” He said the idea would be to get somebody to “study the problem” to figure out a long-term solution for health care in the East Bay.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said Berkeley, nearby cities and the state needed to “work together … to force Alta Bates to stay open.”

“This is not just Berkeley’s problem,” she said. “This is a very, very serious regional problem.”

Part of a poem by @k__worthington about saving #altaBates #berkmtg

— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) July 13, 2016

One nurse who spoke said it would be inappropriate to replace a full-service hospital with what she called an “urgent care clinic” and said there are too many diagnostic and treatment services that would be unavailable to local residents.

Another, Thorild Urdal, said the clinic would be “like throwing a non-inflated lifejacket to someone who’s already drowning.” She said freestanding emergency rooms “don’t make sense and send a very mixed message to the public.”

Said another, describing how neighbors reacted when she told them they would have to leave Berkeley for inpatient care: “When I tell them Sutter expects us to go to Oakland, you should see how their faces change to sadness and disbelief.”

The nurse, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, continued: “Nobody knows exactly when they are going to need their community hospital.”

Sutter Health said its priorities for Berkeley in the future include access to primary care doctors and specialists, its Lifelong Medical Care clinic, behavioral health services and also its cancer care. Those services “will continue as they do today,” according to the memo.

Sutter Health did not address council publicly during Tuesday night’s meeting.

Council may also consider the creation of a “zoning overlay” that would require community hospital uses only in the area where Alta Bates currently operates as one way to fight back. That issue was up for a vote Tuesday night, but City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the item’s author, asked for it to be postponed until late September.

Berkeley neighbors take on ‘noisy and drunken parties’ (05.05.15)
Sutter addresses rumors that Alta Bates hospital to close (04.10.15)
Alta Bates Summit to lay off 358 in Berkeley, Oakland (01.09.14)
Council seeks more details on Alta Bates’ charity care (08.09.13)
UC, Sutter nurses on strike over contracts, patient care (05.22.13)
Nurses at Alta Bates, other Bay Area hospitals, on strike (11.20.12)
Alta Bates nurses go on strike, part of Sutter-wide protest (07.03.12)
Nurses strike at Alta Bates, 10 other hospitals (06.13.12)
On May Day, nurses and Cal staff take to Berkeley streets (05.01.12)
Nurses’ strike draws cheers and honking horns (09.22.11)
Alta Bates nurses to go on one-day strike tomorrow (09.21.11)
Is Berkeley about to lose its heart cath lab? (03.22.10)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...