There is no relief in sight for patients like Dee Strandvold who will lose an important resource when the Alta Bates Summit pain management clinic in Berkeley closes this year.
Strandvold, who suffers chronic back pain, will be among the hundreds left searching for new treatment centers because of the clinic’s financial problems under umbrella organization Sutter Health.
“ We can’t continue to provide a service when we can’t cover the cost of that care,” said Jill Gruen, spokesperson for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
For patients like Strandvold the explanation doesn’t ease the pain.
“If Medicare and Medi-Cal don’t pay enough, why must the disabled be the ones to pay?” Strandvold asked.
State Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson have searched for ways to answer that question, but so far have been stymied in their efforts.
“We’re really just trying to bring the parties to the table so that the patients don’t have to go so far when they close this place,” Perata representative Simeon Gant said. “We’re urging the pain clinic to at least inform [the patients] of their options.”
Carson added that the county, while hoping to find a way to offer the missing service, is running into an ever-present hurdle in the health care industry – a lack of money.
“There are not currently any plans in motion for [the county to reopen the clinic]. There just isn’t a funding source,” Carson said. “Those services are needed but even the hospitals are having to fight hard for those dollars.”
County health Director Dave Kears has also been involved in trying to find a solution. Kears has requested that Alta Bates provide a profile of the program so that other agencies might try to replicate it but make the program pay for itself.
Still, Kears acknowledged that the problem will probably get worse before it gets better.
“As health costs rise and the difficulty in paying for those services continues, this will be reoccurring,” Kears said.
Alta Bates clinic officially stopped accepting new patients July 15 and has been reducing its services ever since.
“We have a devoted full time staff dedicated to contacting patients and working with appropriate referrals,” said Alta Bates’ Gruen.
But this may not be good enough, patients say.
“I don’t know what will happen now,” Strandvold said. “I fear that if the pain clinic dies, I won’t be far behind it. Before the Summit pain clinic, I was in so much pain. I used to grind my teeth so hard I would break off my molars in my sleep.”
Strandvold and the “Painfighters”, a group of former patients organized to fight the clinic’s closing, will be holding a demonstration 11:30 a.m. Sept. 2 at the Summit South Pavilion, where the pain clinic is located.