Keep Berkeley’s Only Hospital Open

“Sutter Health intends to close Alta Bates Hospital – Berkeley’s only acute-care hospital —a move that would deprive our community of a critical facility which provides critical services to East Bay residents including but not limited to: labor and delivery, emergency services, and intensive care services. Sutter Health’s intention to close Alta Bates Medical Center will leave Berkeley and other cities along the I-80 corridor, and through the Caldecott Tunnel without access to full service, acute-care hospital. Closing Alta Bates will force tens of thousands of patients to seek care further away, endangering our health and safety.” —Save Alta Bates Hospital

Several Years ago Summit Health–owner of Alta Bates Hospital–said it would close the facility because that was cheaper than bringing it up to California’s current earthquake building codes. The hospital was founded in 1905 and years later moved to its current location on Ashby Avenue.

When Summit’s announcement was made, public officials, medical groups, and the public raised a ruckus. The noise has temporarily subsided since COVID issues are more urgent and are occupying everyone’s focus at present. Then, too, Summit said it might be 2030 before Alta Bates is closed.

Conversations are ongoing between Berkeley and Summit in hopes of finding a better answer than leaving the town without a hospital. Summit argues that in addition to costs, the hospital is too close to the properly lines for the work to be done. Maybe yes, maybe no. Perhaps the powers that be can craft a variance along with financial help.

According to Berkeley council member Sophie Hahn’s letter to Summit Health CEO Sarah Krevans, “The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call, reminding us of the dangers of too-few emergencyand intensive care beds. Wise public health measures and the cooperation of our community have kept infection rates manageable – so far – but with devastating economic impacts. The new surge in COVID infections is filling up hospitals once again, and capacity is threatened even in communities like ours, that have successfully implemented public health protocols.

“In addition to the current crisis, Berkeley and the entire East Bay are bisected by the
Hayward fault and vulnerable to earthquakes and catastrophic fires. If Alta Bates were to close, how many might be left without care in the next disaster?

“The closure of Alta Bates would compromise access during an emergency, and even
under normal circumstances would negatively impact healthcare for all East Bay
residents, in particular the elderly, working families, and communities of color.”

2030 is not eons away when it comes to major projects, so the state and city need to keep their eyes on this problem rather than a solution that’s worse than the dangers. Summit’s solution, telling people and ambulances to drive over to its Oakland facility is misguided.

Yes, I have a personal interest in this hospital because I was born there.


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