Opinion: We must keep Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley

It might feel like it’s happening in the distant future, but we have to face the reality now: if nothing is done, Berkeley will lose its only active hospital.

It might feel like it’s happening in the distant future, but we have to face the reality now: if nothing is done, Berkeley will lose its only active hospital.

With no emergency services available in a city of over 120,000 people, all necessary services will be routed to Oakland, risking the lives of those in life-threatening scenarios and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in additional health care and transport costs. To be clear, this is not some far-off, theoretical possibility: as it stands today, Alta Bates will close. In fact, it could close as early as next year. For that to change, we need to organize.

Where to start? We’re hosting a Save Alta Bates forum on Feb. 3 at the Ed Roberts Campus, near the Ashby BART station. Elected officials, the California Nurses Association and other relevant organizations will develop organizing strategies.

We need to build a coalition of dedicated public volunteers to knock on doors, hang yard signs, and write letters. This won’t happen without your participation, and we invite you to attend the Feb. 3 forum to help us organize.

It goes without saying that Alta Bates provides necessary services to our local community. According to an Impact Assessment conducted by students at UC Berkeley, racial minorities and residents living at or below the federal poverty line comprise a disproportionate number of Alta Bates patients.

As the authors of this report state, Alta Bates’ potential closure is a health equity issue. The hospital handles thousands of births, surgeries, and emergencies each year. The closure of the hospital, therefore, places a disproportionate health burden on these historically marginalized communities.

Its presence in Berkeley is also necessary in the wake of major environmental catastrophe, such as the potential San Andreas Fault earthquake that’s likely to strike the region in the next few decades. With no hospital to serve an entire city, routing all emergency services in the East Bay toward Oakland hospitals could result in tragedy.

The potential impacts are numerous, but the point ought to be clear: Alta Bates is a vital presence in our community. Please attend the Save Alta Bates forum on Feb. 3, at 11 a.m., and help us begin the process of keeping this crucial community fixture in our community.

Kate Harrison represents District 4 on the Berkeley City Council.