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Community groups fear loss
of critical hospital services

Members of the Bay Area Organizing Committee (BAOC) held a meeting yesterday at St. Mary's Cathedral to address impacts of cost cutting hospital mergers
on health care delivery service.
Photos by John Han

By John Han

September 13, 2007

Members of the Bay Area Organizing Committee (BAOC) convened last night with San Francisco elected officials to push equal health care access for all city residents.

The meeting at St Mary's Cathedral and focused on needs for emergency room and acute care services at St Luke's Hospital, which is now a California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) owned by Sutter Health.

Located in the southeast region of San Francisco, St Luke's has long provided charitable hospital services to a predominately low income African American and Latino community.

But services have become less accessible for residents in the area since CPMC merged with St. Luke's.

"There are no profits to be made in serving the poor," said Dr. Bonita Palmer who trained at San Francisco General Hospital and served seventeen years on staff at St. Luke's Hospital. "That is why so many doctors refuse to accept MediCal and why many hospitals do not seek to attract these patients."

Despite CPMC's promises that St. Luke's would remain an acute care hospital with an emergency room, Palmer said she had witnessed significant cut backs in services since CPMC took over.

She provided emotional testimony of reductions in healthcare services from severe down grading of the hospital's neonatal nursery to the closure of its inpatient psych unit and outpatient clinic.

"Lately it's been intimated that that we cannot afford anymore MediCal patients at our hospital, and that the closure of acute care is inevitable," Palmer said.

Acute care is the treatment of injuries or illnesses that may be temporary but serious, often requiring emergency care.

CPMC is looking towards spending $1.2 billion on a new mega hospital located at the site of the Cathedral Hill Hotel on Geary and Van Ness Boulevards.

The project provides for a five-year demolition and construction period, eleven hundred parking spaces, four-thousand employees and an estimated five-thousand visitors a day.

If approved, other CPMC campuses would relocate their acute care and hospital services to the new campus and serve as administrative and ambulatory care centers.

There is apprehension that approval of the project would mean the relocation of St. Luke's emergency room and acute care services to the new campus as well.

"If St. Luke's were to close we would have only one hospital on the southeast part of the city," said Dr. Mitch Katz, Director of the Department of Public Health.

San Francisco Public Health Director, Dr. Mitch Katz

He noted that the city's poorest populations are located in that region calling them, "the poorest individuals who have the lowest access to care."

"We desperately need to maintain St. Luke's Hospital. We need it for the emergency room" Katz said.

People voiced outrage and concern over what is expected to be the shutting down of St. Luke's emergency room.

Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier said she would vote for legislation calling for a master health care plan involving a review of the city's health care needs. She said that she understood healthcare issues "in a very deep way."

District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier

As District 2 supervisor, which includes CPMC California and Pacific campuses, she said she would be watching "very closely what they do."

Alioto-Pier has called a hearing to be held October 11 at 1pm at City Hall.

Also in attendance at the meeting were BAOC organizations including St. Mark's Lutheran, the Islamic Society of San Francisco, St. John the Evangelist, First Unitarian Universalist and SEIU Local 24/7.

Mayor Gavin Newsom was confirmed and scheduled to speak at the event, but did not attend.





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