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New: Alta Bates Hospital to Close by 2030

Lucy Smallsreed, President, Bateman Neighborhood Association
Wednesday April 08, 2015 - 04:52:00 PM

Recently, rumors have been flying about the possible closure of Alta Bates Hospital. Unfortunately, they are not just rumors. According to Stacey Wells, ABSMC’s Director of Public Affairs, Sutter Health has decided to close Alta Bates Hospital by January 1, 2030. The 2030 date is driven by State law, which sets out strict seismic standards for medical facilities that all hospitals in California must meet by 1/1/2030.[1] Alta Bates currently does not meet the 2030 standards, and Sutter has decided not to incur the enormous expense of retrofitting to those standards. 

Alta Bates Hospital is one of three local hospitals owned by Sutter Health, an umbrella not-for-profit health system that operates 24 acute care hospitals across Northern California. The three local hospitals--Alta Bates, Herrick, and Summit--are operated as “campuses” of the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center (ABSMC), an entity created by Sutter in 2000. According to Wells, the Alta Bates campus has been running large operating deficits, in the many tens of millions of dollars, over the past several years. Retrofitting the hospital to meet the seismic standards would be extremely disruptive and costly.  

Sutter has instead invested in the construction of Summit Pavilion, a large high rise inpatient facility on Oakland’s Pill Hill that complies with the 2030 standards, and has the capacity to absorb most of Alta Bates’ inpatient load. Sutter’s plan is to gradually move most of its Alta Bates programs to the Summit campus. In fact, it has already begun this process, having recently moved the Alta Bates cardiac care unit to Summit. The next program to be moved will be Alta Bates’ stroke center. Wells stressed that Alta Bates will continue to be able to serve emergency cardiac and stroke patients who come to its emergency room, but once stabilized, those patients will be moved to Summit for further care.  

Wells could not comment on the future of the Alta Bates facility once it has been vacated by Sutter. Presumably, the property will be sold. While it is currently zoned for medical use, the City of Berkeley could change the zoning to attract a desirable buyer, who will have to develop the property into something other than an inpatient care facility. Clearly, the stakes are exceedingly high for both the City, as the property could become a significant tax revenue source, and for the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the hospital. Alta Bates lies within the Bateman neighborhood, with Willard immediately to the north, LeConte and Halcyon to the west, and CENA to the east. Traffic and parking along the Ashby corridor affect all bordering neighborhoods from the Bayshore Freeway to Tunnel Road, so those neighborhoods will also be impacted by the fate of the Alta Bates site. 

The year 2030 sounds like a long time off, but is less than 15 years away. According to Wells, it is possible that Sutter will accomplish the transition to Summit earlier than 2030. Therefore, it is not too soon for the neighborhood associations and the city to begin considering how the community could best be served by a new use of the Alta Bates property, and for the neighborhoods to begin discussing the issue with each other and with their council representatives. Wells reports that ABSMC would like to get input from neighborhood groups by holding a neighborhood meeting or forum at some point to hear what residents would like to see, and what we would not want to see, happen to the property.  

There is the equally important issue of how Berkeley residents, not to mention residents of communities to the north of Berkeley, who are not patients of Children’s Hospital or Kaiser will be able to access timely emergency medical care services when their closest ER is in Oakland on the other side of the 80/580 maze. While Sutter will soon open an Urgent Care center at the Herrick campus, and most emergency room visits are more appropriately handled by such centers, the issue remains critical for true emergency patients. 

[1] California’s hospital seismic safety law, SB 1953, was passed in 1994 and requires every hospital building to comply with two deadlines. By Jan. 1, 2008 (or no later than Jan. 1, 2013 if an extension has been granted), every hospital building must meet specific construction standards established to keep these structures standing after a major earthquake. By Jan. 1, 2030, the law requires all hospital buildings to comply with standards intended to keep these buildings operational following a severe quake.