Panel highlights ‘health care desert’ worries in Richmond
on September 1, 2016
A Wednesday night panel discussion on the state of health care in Richmond and West Contra Costa county—places one attendee labeled “health care deserts”—underscored the community’s anxiety over access to medical treatment.
The event, held at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, was sponsored by LifeLong Medical Care, a Bay Area nonprofit that provides health, dental and chronic disease care to underserved populations. The organization operates health centers in Alameda, Marin and Contra Costa Counties, including three locations in Richmond.
Panelists—including actor, activist and Bay Area native Danny Glover—commended LifeLong for its work in the community. But the event quickly turned into a forum for doctors and community members to express outrage over the 2015 shuttering of Doctors Medical Center (DMC) and to call for greater access to and education about health care.
“You do not have a hospital and you need one; you do not have a hospital and you need one,” said panelist Dr. Ramona Tascoe, repeating herself several times to cheers from the audience.
Since San Pablo’s DMC closed last year, Richmond’s closest public hospital is Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez—20 miles from downtown.
During its 50 years of operation, most of DMC’s patients were insured through Medi-Cal or Medicare, or were uninsured. Since the hospital closed, panelists said, many Richmond residents have sought medical treatment at urgent care centers and health clinics.
Because those facilities are not open 24 hours a day, those who need health care services after hours must travel far for care, said panel attendee Duane Chapman, a former Richmond resident and vice chair of the Contra Costa Mental Health Commission.
“We have clinics here,” said Chapman, “but we don’t have a hospital. That’s the problem.”
Tascoe, Medical Director at Westside Methadone Treatment Program in San Francisco, applauded LifeLong’s work but echoed Chapman’s sentiment.
“You cannot do without a hospital,” she said.
Panelist and former DMC physician Dr. Desmond Carson, who is now a doctor at LifeLong’s San Pablo Clinic, was less reserved about his thoughts on his former hospital’s closure.
“I was pissed off,” Carson said, as many in the audience murmured their agreement. “I was truly pissed off when the hospital was closed.”
Tascoe said that she, along with the other panelists and community members, is committed to fighting for better access to care and, most importantly, another hospital.
“I’m confident there will be another hospital because there are those of us who are activists who will not allow you not to have a new hospital,” she said.
Longtime Richmond physician and former DMC chief of staff Dr. Brazell Carter also sat on the panel with Tascoe, Carson and Glover. Renee Kemp, an Emmy-winning journalist who has reported extensively on health, moderated the discussion. About 70 people attended.
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