Community

Is Berkeley about to lose its heart cath lab?

Bob Hink served until last year as a member of the Alta Bates Summit Foundation Board of Delegates. He contributed this comment to Berkeleyside to alert people to the potential closure of the Alta Bates heart catheterization lab.

A medical  experience I had at Alta Bates Hospital (right), in December 2004, made me realize that it was my time to give something back, so a doc friend of mine, Vince Cangello, put out the word to get me elected to the Alta Bates Summit Foundation Board of Delegates (the money raisers), and I was.

This past May, my wife, Jane, and I had a meeting with Dr. Robert Greene, long time Director of the Alta Bates hospital heart catheterization lab. I told him that I had just been “resigned” from the board for opening my big mouth once too often, and he then opened up to us about what was happening to the cath lab.

We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It had all been kept from me.

Greene explained a lot to us, and subsequently put much of that information in a couple of emails he sent us on May 2 and May 3, 2009.


From his May 2 letter:

As you know our Alta Bates cardiac cath facilities are END-OF-LIFE after almost 20 years of treating thousands of people in the Berkeley community with acute heart attacks. I met with our CEO, Warren Kirk, several times about this issue. At our last meeting this week he stated that he can not commit funds [$2 million] for the replacement of our lab at this time. The issue will depend on  un-freezing funds from Sutter Health and other internal hospital mattters, but, in any event, no reassurance was given to us that we can continue our program.

We discussed the engineer’s report that no further replacement parts are available for our Philip’s cath lab and that failure was imminent. Loss of the Philip’s lab would require our Radiology and Electrophysiology cases to be rescheduled in other rooms and, at times,  patients who arrive in the Alta Bates ER to be transferred to the Summit  campus [or elsewhere] depending on availability of cardiac cath facilities.

Loss of these facilities at Alta Bates would not be consistent with national recommendations. Berkeley patients would be required to go to downtown Oakland for their care.

From Greene’s May 3 letter:

For more than 20 years Alta Bates has been a leader in coronary angioplasty — the technique of opening blocked coronary arteries. We provide emergency care for more than 200 heart attack patients per year. Of those, 150 are hospitalized critical care patients and approximately 40 are emergency department patients. Emergency coronary angioplasty has significantly reduced the mortality of our heart attack patients. Our door-to-balloon times are consistently better than the national average [more than 75% have door-to-balloon times less than 90 minutes].

As you know our cardiac cath lab facilities are failing and are unable to be repaired. They are in need of immediate replacement. Our hospital administrators do not have the funds at this time and will not commit to future funding. If our cath lab is not replaced, all Alta Bates patients with unstable heart conditions will have to be transferred to the Oakland campus. All of these patients — including patients having a heart attack — will require summoning an ambulance to transfer them. At the Summit campus they will need to be reassessed by medical specialists using up critical time and resources. According to Dr. Nallamothu’s recent analysis of 4,278 patients transferred from one hospital to another for emergency angioplasty, only 4% had a door-to-balloon time under 90 minutes.

It is well known, the shorter time to treatment [the golden hour] the better the outcome. The loss of our cardiac cath lab will result in longer treatment times and the mortality rate of our patients will increase.

At the last Alta Bates Summit Foundation leadership training meeting I attended in Oakland a little over a year ago, I believe I was informed that the Foundation had north of $30 million in the kitty.

By the way, how many of you have donated money, thinking it was going to Alta Bates Hospital? Want to take a guess at where your money went, if you didn’t earmark it for a specific Alta Bates Hospital  purpose?

A  few months ago, on the very day several of us were slated to attend a Berkeley Health Commission meeting to talk about the situation, a total failure of the cath lab facilities occurred, while Dr.Greene was treating a young woman with a heart attack.


Other recent occurrences, where people ended up at Alta Bates include a Cal women’s basketball player’s heart having stopped while she was practicing in Haas Pavilion; a Cal football fan’s heart attack behind the Greek Theater following the USC game; a Cal lacrosse player having a serious heart incident; and, this last week, a 43-year old male presenting himself to the Alta Bates ER  in such condition that, according to the cath lab nurse who was part of the team that helped save his life, he would not have lasted had he been forced to go to Oakland to begin treatment.

The same nurse also informed me Sutter Health intends to shut down the lab, by the end of June.

I can’t think of a much more ludicrous situation  than Berkeley, home of the University of California, site of all sorts of intellectual, artistic, and technical talent, having its only in-town, supposedly full-service medical facility being no longer able to perform emergency angioplasty, except perhaps the notion of that idea coupled with the thought of 60,000 plus football fans in Memorial Stadium, any home game this coming fall, with no emergency angioplasty available closer than Summit Hospital in Oakland.

It boggles the mind.