Thursday, January 24, 2008

St. Luke's hospital -- what way forward?

On a gray dank afternoon, community activists, union members and local pols queued up on San Francisco's City Hall steps to denounce California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC)/Sutter Health's plans to close St. Luke's Hospital in the Mission District. They've been in this fight a long time: see this and this from 2005, as well as this and this from 2007.

The event was the second press conference about St. Luke's in two days. The earlier one was not a populist event. On Wednesday, CPMC sought to preempt growing opposition to its plans by announcing a "blue ribbon panel" to determine the future of the hospital, which is the only source of safety-net care other than the county hospital for residents of the south side of the city. That press event earned only a few vague paragraphs buried on page B3 of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Sacramento Business Journal offered a fuller account, though not one that clarified the corporation's intentions.

... San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier released a statement announcing she and San Francisco Department of Public Health head Mitch Katz had reached an agreement with CPMC on a process to "maintain" St. Luke's.

CPMC's statement used similar language, but indicated the new process would "determine the future of this fragile but vital health care institution," referring to St. Luke's. ...

Officials at California Pacific indicated the panel will review data about what services at St. Luke's are needed and what services are not, adding that it should complement and support CPMC's current institutional master plan.

"This is an important step in making sure that all voices in the community are heard," Alioto-Pier said in her Jan. 23 statement. "Maintaining and rebuilding St. Luke's and developing it into a first-class hospital for the Mission District and the Southeast section of San Francisco is my primary objective." Katz voiced support for a solution that meets the needs of the city, the community and CPMC.

Neither Alioto-Pier nor Katz gave any indication of what such a solution might be ...

The group gathered at City Hall this afternoon were a lot more definitive. They want medical care that is available to the largely non-white and low-income people who live in the Mission, Excelsior and BayView neighborhoods and they don't trust Sutter.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano whose district includes St. Luke's said it simply: "I have never known Sutter to tell the truth. They don't know what truth is. They just know that profit is."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi denounced the "blue ribbon panel" as "simply a warm, fuzzy way to close St. Luke's."

Union members were out in force. In addition to the nurses, United Healthcare Workers passed out a statement from its leader Sal Rosselli responding to CPMC's announced committee.

"For years, doctors, nurses, caregivers, elected officials, patients and community leaders have asked Sutter officials to commit to save St. Luke's, and they've hedged and dodged the entire time, changing their position over and over again. Now, they've been dragged to the table kicking and screaming, but they still can't say plainly that they're committing to keep St. Luke's open as a full service, acute care hospital.

"Sutter could save St. Luke's today by signing a legally binding memorandum of agreement to keep the hospital open and fully functioning. The Sutter Corporation reported $587 million in profits last year alone. They have more than enough funds to maintain and improve the hospital. The question is whether or not they have the will to protect the health of San Franciscans by keeping St. Luke's open.

"Fundamentally, we believe San Francisco would be better served by an open and accountable public process to determine the city's healthcare needs and ensure that all of Sutter's reorganization plans meet them in order to win city approval."

The organizations represented at City Hall today speak for a lot of people and they don't give up easily. When I got back from the press event, I found an email invitation which opens with this:

[We] had a conversion about Save St Luke's Hospital and what more Senior Action Network can do regarding this issue. So we decided that SAN's next Senior University would focus on St Luke's Hospital and Healthy San Francisco. Senior University is a 4-day training program for seniors and persons with disabilities on community organizing. ...

Sutter better watch out.

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