Fighting the Good Fight for Alta Bates


This Sunday, several hundred people gathered outside of Alta Bates Hospital to protest its impending closure, which could come as early as 2030. We had great representation from the California Nurses Association, doctors, community activists and families whose children and grandchildren were born at the hospital that has been part of our community since 1905.

One of the people in attendance was Meg Schwartzman, a Berkeley resident who suffered a serious bicycling accident in 2016 after being run over by an intoxicated driver, and would have likely died if she wasn’t quickly transported to the emergency room.

Schwartzman was dragged by a car for 60 feet and suffered 20 broken ribs, multiple pelvic fractures, a broken collarbone and broken bones in her face. It was a horrific accident. Luckily Schwartzman, a researcher at UC Berkeley, was able to get to an emergency room in minutes where she was promptly attended to.

“Meg is alive today because the paramedics and doctors who took care of her are part of a system that has worked for decades to drive down the time it takes to deliver emergency medical care,” said her husband Mike Wilson, a former firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician. “Hospitals are the hub of that system. If Sutter closes Alta Bates, paramedic response and transport times will increase throughout the entire swath of the Bay Area because the Berkeley fire department’s four ambulances will be transporting patients into Oakland, well outside the city limits rather than being able to deliver a patient then turn around and quickly respond to another 911 call.”

Alta Bates opened in 1905 as an eight-bed sanitarium for women and children, making it quite literally the birthplace of the East Bay. Without Alta Bates, the closest emergency room would be Summit Medical Center in Oakland or Kaiser in Richmond, meaning that ambulances will have to drive farther to get patients the life-saving medicine that they need.

Doctors have a saying that time is not money, it’s life. Closing Alta Bates will add at least 15 minutes to transport times, according to the Berkeley Fire Department. So it’s no exaggeration to say that people who have suffered cardiac arrest, heart attacks and other life-threatening injuries that require immediate treatment may lose their lives as a result of closure.

I want residents to know that the City and many other community activists are working very hard to prevent closure. This includes:

  • Continuing to negotiate with Summit as well as speaking with other possible operators.  So far, we have been in touch with one operator who is very interested in entering this market and providing a full acute care hospital.
  • The Greenlining Institute is studying to what extent Sutter is complying with its Community Health Needs Assessment, required in order to receive nonprofit status, and is currently comparing with other operators. 
  • The UC Berkeley Public Health Department has begun the process of a Health Impact Analysis (HIA) that will take into consideration the entire I-80 Corridor. 

It is unconscionable to close a hospital at a time when the population of the city and region are growing. We must do everything in our power to save our hospital.

Jesse Arreguin