By David Elliot Lewis, guest commentary
July 18, 2012
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and members of the public endured a very long and trying hearing Tuesday about the future of California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) and the fate of St. Luke’s hospital – both hospitals owned by Sutter Health.
This seven-hour hearing, intended to be the final hearing on CPMC’s environmental impact report (EIR), tried the patience of all involved. If approved, it would have helped Sutter Health move towards their plan to build a 15 story, 555 bed luxury hospital at the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street, reduce St. Luke’s hospital from 229 to 80 beds and also close their other city hospitals as they transfer their beds to this new Cathedral Hill site.
While the specific issue of this hearing was to either approve or disapprove an appeal of this project’s EIR, the entire development agreement came into question.
The larger question on most minds was the fate of St. Luke’s, a charity hospital at 3555 Cesar Chavez Street and the only hospital in the southern half of the city. St. Luke’s, which now has 229 beds is a crucial hospital for many low-income people. Without St. Luke’s, any medical emergency in this half of our city becomes much more life threatening.
Ever since Sutter Health purchased CPMC a decade ago, they have tried to close St. Luke’s as it is not a profit center for them. This is troubling as Sutter is a non-profit corporation. Many, including myself, believe that if St. Luke’s is reduced from 229 to only 80 beds, it will not be economically viable.
The hearing focused on traffic issues, the project objectives – plus an alternative plan for a larger St. Luke’s and a smaller Cathedral Hill campus (called plan 3A).
Also discussed was CPMC’s lack of transparency on releasing their financial details. These financial details are important because Sutter’s promise to keep St. Luke’s open is based on St. Luke’s level of profitability. The very fact that in our country health care needs to be profitable is a troublesome and disturbing issue.
The final outcome
The decision on the EIR was delayed for two weeks to give Sutter Health one more opportunity to negotiate a good faith agreement with the city, one that hopefully guarantees to keep St. Luke’s open for at least 20 years and one that will hopefully consider a better alternative, plan 3A, that transfers some of the beds from the Cathedral Hill campus to St Luke’s, a change that would help ensure St. Luke’s viability and reduce the traffic hazards at Cathedral Hill.
Seven of 11 Supervisors – Eric Mar, Christina Olague, Jane Kim, Scott Wiener, David Campos, Malia Cohen and John Avalos – expressed concerns over CPMC and voted in support of the continuance.