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Alta Bates Summit plan to consolidate meets opposition

Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Thursday September 13, 2001

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, the largest hospital system in northern Alameda County, announced Wednesday that it would seek to consolidate services at its two facilities in order to reduce financial losses. 

The former Alta Bates hospital’s main campus is located in Berkeley at 2450 Ashby Ave., and the former Summit Hospital’s campus is at 350 Hawthorne Ave. in Oakland. 

The consolidation plan – details of which have been the subject of rumor and speculation – would create “Centers of Excellence” that specialize in cancer, heart disease and obstetrics, among others, in one of the two hospitals, while discontinuing care in the other. 

Alta Bates Summit CEO Warren Kirk said that the hospitals have lost $25 million so far this year. 

Meanwhile, opposition to the plan has been mounting, as East Bay elected officials take their concerns public and the union representing service workers at the hospitals plan a campaign against the proposal. 

“It’s outrageous that a non-profit organization of this scale can discontinue services like this without any public consultation,” said Fred Seavey, research director for the Service Employees International Union Local 250, which represents 1,100 Alta Bates Summit workers. 

“We’re concerned not only about the impact on jobs, but because we have tens of thousands of members who are consumers of health care services.” 

Under the plan, child delivery and cancer treatment wards would be located exclusively at Alta Bates, while heart disease treatment and orthopedics would be treated at Summit. 

Critics of consolidation say that the plan breaks a number of promises made to the community when Alta Bates Summit was created, and predicted that the quality of care would deteriorate. 

Berkeley’s Alta Bates Medical Center merged with Oakland’s Summit Medical Center in December 1999. At that time, Summit joined Alta Bates as an affiliate of the Sacramento-based Sutter Health Network. 

The merger was opposed by a number of labor and community-based organizations, which feared that it would lead to a reduction in service at both hospitals, and possibly, the eventual closure of one or the other of them. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a federal suit to block the deal, but was unsuccessful. 

A brochure that was distributed by both hospitals as part of a public relations campaign in 1999 promised East Bay residents that “both hospitals would continue to provide emergency, critical care... and maternity services.” The announcement on Wednesday said that Summit Alta Bates would close Summit’s maternity ward. 

Supervisor Keith Carson attended a conference between Alta Bates Summit management and East Bay lawmakers a few weeks ago. According to Carson, the meeting was called by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, to address changes in management at the hospital. 

Carson said he pressed Sutter CEO Van Johnson to address consolidation at the hospital, but received what he called a “non-answer.”  

“I really feel that they had some idea about what was going to happen, and unfortunately they chose not to share it,” he said. “That doesn’t make me feel that we’ve gotten a good start as honest partners.” 

“True partnership means both sides have co-equal parts in the process – and this has been a one-sided process.” 

Carson said that he received a fax from Alta Bates Summit management on Tuesday – “interesting timing,” he said – that outlined the consolidation plan. 

“(It) became all too clear by Tuesday’s situation in New York, if something happens to the Bay Bridge, or if we have an earthquake or fire, we have a responsibility to be sure that all people receive care,” he said. “That responsibility must be carried by public clinics, non-profit clinics and all the hospitals.” 

Carolyn Kemp, Alta Bates Summit spokesperson said the hospital made the decision to consolidate services after reading the recommendations of The Hunter Group, an independent consultant it hired to study its operations. The hospital has declined to release the Hunter report. 

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, one of the leaders in the opposition to the merger in 1999, decried Alta Bates Summit’s decision not to make the report public. 

“They say that they’re going to make all these decisions that affect all these people, and you’re going to have to take their word for it,” he said. 

Alta Bates Summit officials contend that the combined facilities would mean a higher quality of care for patients. 

“I think that this is an incredible opportunity for the East Bay,” Kemp said. “Our goal is to provide services that are second to none in the Bay Area, and I think this is definitely something we should be looking at.” 

Supervisor Carson said that the public needed to have a bigger voice in decisions like these, which affect public health and government services.  

“For the good of all people in the East Bay – whether they go to Alta Bates or Summit, or Highland or Kaiser or Children’s – we have to sit down and see how this is all going to work out,” he said. 

SEIU Local 250 will demonstrate outside Summit Medical Center Monday at noon. Community representatives and elected officials, in addition to union leaders, are expected to speak.