Battle over East Bay hospital closure draws hundreds to town hall meeting

More than 150 people rallied in Berkeley on Wednesday in support of Alta Bates Hospital, which faces closure. The nurses union was on hand to lay out a battle plan to keep the hospital open.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) – A town hall meeting in Berkeley drew nearly two hundred people to talk about how to prevent the Alta Bates Summit Hospital in Berkeley from closing.

Chants of "Save Alta Bates, save Alta Bates," erupted at times from the crowd of nurses, politicians, activists, and community members who gathered at the Ed Roberts Campus on Adeline Street Wednesday night.

"I like Alta Bates, both of my kids were born at Alta Bates and I didn't even know they were closing," said Rosalind Roberts, an Oakland resident who came to learn details at the meeting.

Actor Danny Glover voiced his support on a video.

"We have to demand that Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley remain open for the community," Glover said.

The town hall was part rally, part lecture, as members of the California Nurses Association vowed to fight the closure.

"No one should assume we can't stop it," said one CNA official.

Alta Bates has a long history in Berkeley, named after the nurse Alta Alice Miner Bates who established it for women and children in 1905.

The CNA nurses say patients and the community would be harmed if the hospital closed. Nurses said they called the meeting Wednesday, because they heard the hospital might close as soon as 2018.

California Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who represents Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland was among the lawmakers present.

'I've asked them to be transparent in the community and explain why they are closing the hospital we asked them to come to the meeting tonight," Thurmond said.

Sutter Health spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp did not attend, but told KTVU by phone that plans are still in the beginning stage and said Alta Bates Hospital is not being closed in 2018.

Hospital officials say health care has changed and hospitals need to change with the times, as outpatient services are increasingly replacing long hospital stays.

The non-profit announced plans last year to move the Alta Bates Hospital services and staff in Berkeley to their Summit Medical Center campus in Oakland.

Sutter Health said Alta Bates Hospital also is not seismically compliant and would need to close by the state deadline of 2030. They say the consolidation will allow them to expand the oakland campus with a new emergency room, operating rooms, ICU and state of the art technology.

The nurses union is skeptical, saying the move would shrink capacity, force patients to drive farther and wait longer for care,

"There already aren't enough hospital beds in the area. We're less than half the national average," said Thorild Urdal, an Alta Bates registered nurse in the labor and delivery unit.

"You need hospitals that can take on patients in an emergency and you need hospitals that can take on patients just during peak flu season for instance," Urdal said.

In Berkeley, some people say Alta Bates Hospital should be retrofitted. One San Leandro woman Pamela Richard, whose son is a patient, says she worries about consolidation.

"It would be packed they could not get the care that they need," Richard said.

Sutter Health spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp says they plan to ask for public input as the plans progress and are open to hearing from the community about what to do with the Alta Bates campus after the hospital closes.

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