Kaiser Permanente has postponed plans to begin closing its flagship Oakland, Calif., hospital until next year at the earliest, executives said last week.
Kaiser had planned to start moving adult inpatient and emergency care next month from its 264-bed Oakland Medical Center to nearby Summit Medical Center, a competing 420-bed facility.
The managed-care company said it wants to close its aging Oakland hospital, which was built in the late 1940s, to avoid investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a state-mandated seismic retrofit.
Instead, Kaiser will review its options on implementing the closure, bowing to concerns raised by its own Permanente Medical Group physicians, the California Nurses Association, labor unions and a host of California's East Bay community groups and political leaders who insist that Oakland needs the hospital and its emergency room. Officials did not indicate when the transfer of services might take place.
"We are taking time to address concerns raised by our staff, physicians, labor partners, health plan members and the community at large," Bettie Coles, a senior vice president of Kaiser's East Bay region, said last week in a written statement.
In the same statement, Summit Chief Executive Officer Irwin Hansen said Summit is "committed to working with Kaiser" to make the transfer happen.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Kaiser tried unsuccessfully to find an East Bay location for a replacement hospital, before settling last year on its alliance with Summit.
Summit's proposed acquisition by Sacramento-based Sutter Health is under review by state and federal regulators, and a change of plans by Kaiser could alter the results of that antitrust review or even undo the merger (Oct. 5, 1998, p. 66). If Kaiser's Oakland hospital closes and its adult patients move to Summit, Summit's market share would increase significantly, making a Summit-Sutter deal a harder sell with regulators.
However, Kaiser officials said anti-trust considerations played no role in the delay.