By John William Templeton
Channeling the immortal words of Frederick Douglass, a courageous group of doctors, nurses and civic leaders drew a line in the sand this week (by seeking a Temporary Restraining Order, see adjacent story) to avert the closure of West Contra Costa’s only public emergency lifeline – Doctors Medical Center (DMC).< p>Invoking thousands of senior citizens who labored in four shipyards to win World War II and now count on their nation, state and county to care for them, the Doctors Medical Center Closure Aversion Committee implored U.S. District Judge William Orrick to choose humanity over despair and stop the closure of Doctors Medical Center
They cited the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, created as a direct result of Douglass’ abolitionist messages. The towering figure’s words “Without struggle there is no progress” are enshrined on a monument in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The African American Civil War Memorial also carries Douglass’ statement: “Who would be free themselves must first strike the blow.
Legislating from atop that Douglass statue is Rep. George Miller, D-CA, considered the “right hand” of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Committee members met with Barb Smith, his local chief of staff, and other staffers to discuss how Miller can intervene for citizens whose sacrifice saved the nation after Pearl Harbor
Dr. Otis Rounds, a hospitalist in the facility, leads the committee and joined other DMC physicians as named plaintiffs in the suit. They also held a town hall at Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church Thursday to empower community members with facts about what county officials describe as “catastrophic” impacts of reducing service dramatically or closing the facility.
Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor of Sojourner Truth Church, is also moderator of the Presbytery of San Francisco, and called on all area clergy to get involved.
Dr. Rounds and other members of the committee cannot reconcile how relevant officials can paint such a bleak picture, yet not act to prevent it. “Many of our patients today were building a ship every week for years when America was in its darkest hour,” said Rounds. “How can we not get decision makers together to keep their hospital thriving for years to come?”
The closure is part of a cycle of declining services for minority and low-income communities throughout the Bay Area despite record tax revenues and explosive growth.
Deleting transit services, schools, libraries and health facilities then leads to a spiral of community decline accelerated by the highest concentration of predatory loans of any metropolitan area in the country and employment discrimination by the fastest growing and cash flush technology companies.
The result is displacement from coastal communities once needed for shipbuilding and unloading cargo that are now viewed as desirable places to put luxury housing, offices and sports arenas. Plan Bay Area, a nine-county document that forecasts through 2040, identifies those minority coastal neighborhoods as headed for rapid growth, but doesn’t address the fate of the people who currently live there.
DMCs fight is then a fight on behalf of all those communities, which are often invisible so that the 25 percent rate of asthma for youth in Richmond is ignored.
But when 60 percent of Contra Costa County’s ambulance traffic gets re-routed within a 25-mile radius to hospitals from Martinez to Oakland to Napa, this problem will become real to the entire East Bay, clogging freeway traffic and extending daily commutes.
The doctors note that closing the hospital actually costs more than keeping it open. Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Budget Committee chair, are reviewing ways the state can provide additional assistance as West Contra Costa County bears the burden for providing industrial materials for the entire state.
As West Contra Costa County experiences its most explosive growth since World War II, it is likely that such developments as the University of California’s Richmond Bay Campus will drive population and tax revenues up. Including a new hospital and associated facilities with such growth is consistent with proper land use planning.
Similar construction at UC San Francisco paid for the construction of a new public safety headquarters.
Martin Luther King Jr. has said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The advocates for Doctors Medical Center foresee a solution that preserves the access to high quality care for the patients that need it most. It is the right thing to do.
John William Templeton is co-founder of National Black Business Month in August and a consultant to the Doctors Medical Center Closure Aversion Committee.