Legislature Acts to Protect Communities from Hospital Closures

September 15, 2017

Sacramento, State Capitol – Senate Bill 687 authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), which requires non-profit hospitals in California to obtain approval from the state Attorney General before closing an emergency department, passed out of the California State Legislature today.

“The farther you live from an emergency room the more your life is at risk,” said Senator Skinner, “SB 687 creates a layer of protection for the wellbeing of our communities.”

The bill directs the Attorney General to consider impacts the emergency department closure would have on the accessibility of necessary health care services. SB 687 puts emergency room closures on par with existing law that requires Attorney General approval before non-profit hospitals can be sold.

From 1996 to 2009, California experienced a 12% reduction in hospital emergency departments despite a 27% increase in visits. Studies evaluating the impacts of hospital closures show that loss of hospital emergency departments increase the risk of death by 15% for patients in the affected area who have a stroke or heart attack. 

“California already has the fewest emergency room services per capita in the nation; further emergency room closures put patients and first responders at needless risk,” said Jon Fischer, President of Berkeley Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 1227.

The 2015 closure of San Pablo’s Doctors Medical left over 200,000 residents in West Contra Costa County with only one full service hospital, the 50 bed Kaiser Richmond facility. While northern Alameda County residents fare better, Berkeley’s Alta Bates hospital is now proposed to close in 2030 leaving residents along the I-80 corridor from Rodeo to Emeryville in a virtual hospital desert.

“As emergency physicians, we know the people we care for are in serious need of our services. It’s not just our day-to-day experience, research confirms higher mortality for people when an ER closes and that those who are most at-risk are those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the underinsured, the very sick. We are pleased to support this bill to ensure greater scrutiny before an ER can close and leave a community lacking access to emergency services.” Dr. Larry Stock MD FACEP, President of the California Chapter of American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Access to hospital services is essential to the health and safety of residents and communities,” Skinner stated, “SB 687 is one tool to help us achieve that goal.

SB 687 has widespread support from local governments including Los Angeles, Oakland, Richmond, and Berkeley as well as organizations such as the California American College of Emergency Room Physicians, the California Labor Federation, Police Officers Research Association of California, and the California Professional Firefighters.

SB 687 now moves to the desk of Governor Brown.