No ambulances allowed. Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo has closed its emergency room to the vehicles.
Now, thousands of people who live in west Contra Costa County are worried about where they can get help when they need it the most – in an emergency.
The hospital has been in financial trouble for a long time because of a spike in the number of low-income patients who relied on Medi-Cal or Medicare.
Plus, voters rejected a parcel tax in May that would have saved services at this hospital. Turning away ambulances is one of the first casualties.
Monroe Johnson knows the value of having Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo close by to his home. His appendix ruptured and an ambulance whisked him away to the emergency room quickly.
“I would have died,” Johnson said. “The poison would have come through my system and I would have died… So the closer the hospital is to you, the better off you are.”
But, as of Thursday, Doctors Medical Center is no longer accepting ambulances. The emergency room will still take walk-in patients, but those being transported by ambulance will be diverted to Kaiser Richmond, Vallejo, Marin, or Contra Costa Medical in Martinez, roughly 30 minutes away.
Of the two dozen emergency trips made by ambulances a day, only three are considered critical, according to the county, which says its mission is still the same despite the San Pablo closure.
“To make sure that when people call 9-1-1 we’re going to arrive there promptly, help support them, getting them to the hospital even if it takes a few minutes more,” Emergency Medical Services Director Pat Frost said.
Many worry whether the other hospitals can handle the extra patients.
Kaiser Richmond, with only 15 ER beds, can hardly serve a population of roughly a quarter million people in the surrounding areas.
Critics say they’re alarmed with the extra time it will take to the next nearest one. Remember, when the Chevron refinery fire sent hundreds to the hospital? Doctors Medical Center handled the bulk of patients.
“It’s a danger to the patient,” said Seung Choo, an RN at Doctors Medical Center. “The longer you wait to be diverted to another hospital instead of coming to nearest hospital, which is Doctors Medical Center, it’s better for you to come here. So it’s a danger to prolong care.”
Doctors Medical Center doesn’t have a trauma center, so no gunshot wound victims go there, but heart attacks, stroke victims, people who are unconscious – drivers with certain injuries from car accidents: Ambulances will no longer be able to take them to the San Pablo hospital.