| St. Luke’s Keeps Struggling
By Jonathan Farrell Dec 22, 2009
Nurses, hospital workers and clergy joined in a candlelight vigil estimated at over 80 people at St. Luke’s Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 1 in an effort to express their disagreements with the current plans to rebuilt the 130-year-old facility.
“We organized this vigil to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the plans California Pacific Medical Center and Sutter Health pushed forward as part of a Master Plan,” said Nato Green, labor representative for The California Nurses Association. “CPMC’s plan is to build a new hospital at Cathedral Hill,” added Green. California Nurses is one of at least three unions not pleased with the proposed plans for St. Luke’s.
St. Luke’s which at once had been a community hospital operated by the Episcopalian Diocese of San Francisco to serve the poor eventually landed in the hands of CPMC/Sutter. Rising costs in health care and an ever-increasing complexity of health care technology and outreach forced the Episcopalian Church of San Francisco to relinquish its control of the beloved hospital it founded in 1871.
Since 2007 The Mission Dispatch has been following the on-going struggle between CPMC part of Sutter Health, Inc. and the various people who question if not oppose the corporate healthcare conglomerate in its plan to consolidate and reshape San Francisco’s hospital outreach services.
The “crown-jewel” in the over all Master Plan is a state-of-the-art medical facility to be built at Cathedral Hill, formerly known as the Jack Tarr Hotel complex at Van Ness Ave.
That facility at Cathedral Hill would connect all other CPMC and Sutter Health facilities in the City into one unified system of health care outreach and medical technology. Yet, nurses, doctors and healthcare workers questioned this Master Plan which initially sought to close St. Luke’s.
News of CPMC’s plan to close St. Luke’s two years ago caused an outcry. Many feared that the Master Plan would simply shut out the working class, low-income and the uninsured by moving high quality care to more upscale parts of the City. Thus with the completion of the Master Plan an imbalance of healthcare services would occur leaving one of the most densely populated areas of San Francisco (The Mission, Bernal Heights areas) unattended and more vulnerable.
After the forming of an extensive Blue Ribbon Committee spear-headed by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and the SF Board of Supervisors, CPMC agreed to rebuild St. Luke’s by integrating the campus into CPMC’s City-wide Master Plan.
Following the resolutions adopted at the Blue Ribbon Committee meetings; CPMC hosted a series of outreach workshop/meetings to inform the public and to get feedback. The Mission Dispatch was present at some of those proceedings and it seemed officials of CMPC were in dialogue with the community.
Yet according to Green there has been a breakdown in the communication, especially now that the SF Planning Commission has closed the time for public comment. On Nov. 19 the Planning Commission deemed the initial paperwork for the Master Plan of CPMC complete and in proper order. “This does not mean that they (the Planning Commission) approved or support the proposals within the document,” said Elizabeth Watty, speaking on behalf of the Planning Dept.
Green and others claim that CPMC is continuing to “shut-down” vital services at St. Luke’s. A reduction in beds available at St. Luke’s Hospital (from 225 to 82). “That’s a reduction of over 62 percent,” said Green. He referred to that proposed reduction of acute care beds as “uncommonly small amount for an urban area.”
Green and others say reductions in-patient care units and services offered to St. Luke’s patients are ongoing. Services are being transferred to other hospitals within their system. Green believes that CPMC is downsizing St. Luke’s so it in essence will fail and have to be dismantled and moved to Cathedral Hill once it is built. “We see this as unacceptable,” said Green.
Green and others worry that the working class, seniors and low-income people will be neglected when the Master Plan is set in place.
“CPMC has made clear that seniors are not a high priority,” said Joseph Smooke, Executive Director of Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. “They’re claiming that St. Luke’s will focus on senior health, but want all the specialists that seniors need located somewhere else,” he said.
“They’re also reducing Medicare beds when the city projects a 30 percent shortage of skilled nursing beds by 2020,” Smooke said. “They even cut funding to our community-based senior services programs because we wouldn’t toe their political line to support the deluxe Cathedral Hill hospital,” Smooke added.
CPMC reps view most of the current turmoil surrounding their efforts to improve high quality health care in San Francisco as a labor dispute between Master Plan visionaries and labor unions.
The current cost estimate for St. Luke’s rebuilding is between $200-250 million.
Even without CPMC’s Master Plan, like San Francisco General Hospital, St. Luke’s would have to be rebuilt regardless. “California State law, specifically SB1953, requires all acute care hospitals to be either seismically retrofitted or rebuilt by 2015 or they have to shut their doors,” said Kevin McCormack, media rep for CPMC.
“That’s why there is a sense of urgency about this,” he said. “If we can’t get plans to rebuild through all the various stages in time then there is a real risk that St. Luke’s won’t be rebuilt in time and then we wouldn’t be able to keep the old hospital open,” said McCormack.
“The same is true for our new hospital at Cathedral Hill. If we don’t have that open by Jan. 1st 2015 then we have to shut the doors to our current acute care facility at our Pacific Campus (the current main hospital at 2333 Buchanan in the CPMC system).
McCormack spoke to the Mission Dispatch about the percentage numbers Green and the nurses union presented. “CPMC is planning on having about 86 beds in acute care for St. Luke’s,” he said. “But every hospital has a license for more beds than they actually use,” McCormack noted.
“Currently, St. Luke’s has 215 beds,” said McCormack. “But the average number actually used on an annual basis is about 60 beds for acute care,” he said. McCormack claims that figures are based upon a 10-year span of statistical data.
“Nobody wants to quibble about figures and percentages,” said Green, in response to McCormack’s comment. “It’s true all hospitals have more licensed beds than they use. But my interpretation is that CPMC used those figures to justify making plans for a smaller St. Luke’s,” said Green.
McCormack attended the vigil on Dec. 1 and told the Mission Dispatch that the real reason for all the opposition to the plans for St. Luke’s is because “this is about union jobs.” Cathedral Hill will be a non-union facility. McCormack noted that union dues cost up to $1,000 per year.
“But nurses and workers will have the option to organize a union,” McCormack said. “All this talk about the Master Plan is taken out of context,” he said. “Like comparing apples to oranges,” (so to speak). “Cathedral Hill is a separate project,” McCormack added. “What CPMC is trying to do is get plans together for St. Luke’s. This is all for St. Luke’s and the community,” said McCormack.
Green and others still disagree perceiving the plans proposed for St. Luke’s as deceptive and the dialogues as a disguise for promoting the Master Plan. Healthcare and nurses unions still view all this as a struggle against the poor and uninsured.
“As Registered Nurses, we are obligated to advocate for our patients, and I have to say that there is a terrible public health danger posed by CPMC’s efforts to slash services at St. Luke’s,” said Jane Sandoval, a long-time Registered Nurse at St. Luke’s.
“What’s good enough for Cathedral Hill should be good enough for St. Luke’s,” she said. “What message does it send when medically-under-served patients, often Latino and African-American, are offered fewer services, fewer resources, fewer nurses, and fewer beds? How can CPMC so willingly embrace this medical redlining?” asked Sandoval.
“The nurses association and others continually alleges we (CPMC/Sutter) are planning on walking away from St. Luke’s. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said McCormack
“In fact, on the same day that the Nurses Association was protesting out in front of the hospital we were opening a brand new Orthopedic Trauma Clinic at St. Luke’s, offering our patients the best in spine, sports medicine, foot, ankle, joint replacements and fracture care. It’s a sign of our commitment to the future of the hospital and the community,” said McCormack.
“CPMC is willing to keep meeting with us to discuss the labor dispute,” admitted Green. “But has been explicit that they are not willing to modify their position on any issue,”
Green said that CPMC has been uncooperative. McCormack said that CPMC has been trying to get labor contracts negotiated since May of this year.
Yet as Watty noted, “CPMC has not filed any entitlement documents for the plans as of today. Their EIR (Environmental Impact Report) is currently underway,” she said. “No entitlements can be taken to the Planning Commission until the EIR is certified,” said Watty.
To learn more about the Plans for St. Luke’s Hospital visit: http://rebuildcpmc.org/plans/st_lukes_campus
And to review The California Nurses Association point of view on the plans visit:
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