By Jeanine Chatman and Carol Barazi

The future of San Leandro Hospital has been in doubt for over two years, but at long last, there is now hope to save the hospital—and to save the lives of untold numbers of its patients. Seeing this hope to fruition must become an urgent priority for all Alameda County policy makers.

In recent weeks, St. Rose Hospital, a well-respected nearby facility, has stepped forward with an offer to assume control of San Leandro Hospital and secure its future. St. Rose has committed to keeping the facility open as a full-service, acute-care hospital, as it has been for generations.

We didn’t always have hope that this facility could be saved. Sutter Health currently runs San Leandro Hospital, and is a chain that has generated controversy around the Bay Area for its cutbacks and closures of services at many of its facilities. It has long tried to close this hospital, claiming losses it is unable to fully prove.

Sutter has been in negotiations with Alameda County Medical Center in an attempt to transfer the hospital to them, convert the facility to a rehabilitation center, and eliminate all inpatient services including the emergency room. In recent months, a “hybrid model” has been proposed which would keep some acute-care services but downgrade much of the facility to rehabilitation, urgent care, and medical offices.

Closing or downgrading the hospital are both unacceptable and unnecessary choices. Closing would be a disaster. Downgrading would be just as bad—it’s the first step to permanent closure. Under either scenario the sickest patients would be forced onto our congested Bay Area highways to seek care elsewhere, in many cases causing critical delays of care. The healthcare safety net is already frayed, can we in good conscience unravel it further?

Think of the 25,000 patients who rush to the hospital’s emergency department every year. Think of the hundred thousand patients who use the inpatient and outpatient services and have long-established relationships with their care providers. When such relationships are severed, people often forego medical attention, rather than seek out unknown providers.

Shuttering or reducing services at this community-based hospital would exacerbate the medical inequalities that already exist. The patient population of San Leandro Hospital reflects the diversity of the surrounding city which consists of sizeable numbers of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. We should be increasing medical services rather than diminishing a historic hospital that has well served its citizens.

All of these issues are made even more pressing by the recent 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan. A major earthquake is predicted in the East Bay and we need to be as best prepared as possible. Essential healthcare services need to be located where the major populations reside, not concentrated in a few primarily affluent areas, hoping that our emergency providers can reach them in the event of a major disaster. That is just bad public policy.

The citizens of the greater San Leandro community have turned out in large numbers at every opportunity to protest plans by Sutter to close the facility. The city recently elected a new mayor who has pledged to keep the facility open.

The policymakers of Alameda County must now pick up the mantel and follow their constituents lead: to maintain a full-service acute care hospital in San Leandro and accept the offer by St. Rose Hospital to make that so.

Jeanine Chatman and Carol Barazi are registered nurses employed at San Leandro Hospital.