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Cash-Strapped Doctors Medical Center Ends Its Emergency Ambulance Service

SAN PABLO (CBS SF) -- After 60 years, emergency ambulance service came to an abrupt stop at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo Thursday morning as the financially embattled hospital struggles to staff its emergency room.

Patients in the area transported by emergency ambulance will now be re-routed to other nearby hospitals across the Bay Area, depending on where they live and the urgency of the situation.

DMC had originally planned to halt emergency ambulance service by next Tuesday amid staffing shortages stemming from the hospital's $18 million budget deficit, but decided to stop emergency ambulance service by this morning as staff continued to dwindle, according to Contra Costa Health Services officials.

"Our shared first priority throughout the fiscal crisis that has been confronting DMC has been maintaining continuity of care, and in the judgment of the county and this hospital, it is time to take this step," said Dawn Gideon, the hospital's acting chief executive officer.

DMC sees about 22 to 24 patients come to its doors each day via emergency ambulance, including three to four that may be in critical condition, according to Contra Costa Emergency Medical Services director Patricia Frost.

The hospital that emergency ambulance patients in the area will now go to depends on where they live, what type of insurance they have and
what type of medical emergency they're experiencing, Frost said.

"The vast majority of 911 patients who will be affected are not life-or-death situations," she said. "It's going to be an inconvenience to the community that shouldn't minimized, but we can safely transport everyone."

Without DMC, which was west Contra Costa County's only provider of specialized heart attack and stroke care, patients suffering from these medical crises will go to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, Kaiser Permanente's Vallejo Medical Center or Marin General Hospital, according to Contra Costa Health Services spokeswoman Victoria Balladares.

But Frost emphasized that "Regardless of what is going on with DMC, we will be there to respond in a timely manner with emergency ambulance services and get them to an appropriate medical center."

County health officials said they have been preparing a contingency plan for emergency medical services to DMC since the hospital announced a state of fiscal emergency last November. Voters in May rejected a parcel tax measure meant to bridge the hospital's deficit and DMC had been on track to close in July.

The public hospital's longtime fiscal woes stemmed from a patient population that is mainly uninsured or underinsured, according to county

In June, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $6 million loan to keep the hospital running while county health and DMC officials work together to come up with a downsized, more sustainable version of the hospital.

Frost said the possible return of emergency ambulance service to DMC would depend on the hospital's staffing levels.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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