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article imagePlans for St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco halted by protests Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Aug 30, 2010 in Politics
As the struggle between California Pacific Medical Center and labor union representatives continues on, a youth rally was staged on July 15 and a nurses rally on Aug. 12 to protest the future plans CPMC has for St. Luke’s Hospital.
St. Luke’s is one of the oldest hospitals in the city of San Francisco. Once a private hospital founded and managed by the Episcopal Church of SF, St. Luke’s was struggling.
Spiraling costs and the demand for new technologies in health care forced the Episcopal archdiocese to relinquish ownership.
Sutter Health Inc., a major health care conglomerate placed St. Luke’s into the CPMC system in 2005.
For the past three years this reporter has been following the on-going struggle to keep St. Luke’s open and maintain its presence in the area.
Since 2007 when CPMC had initially announced that it wanted to close down St. Luke’s, public out-cry lead to the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Committee spear-headed by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and the SF Board of Supervisors.
That long-series of committee meetings involving panel discussions and the input of many advisory groups, established recommendations for CPMC to follow in order to save St. Luke’s.
And since then CPMC has been addressing the on-going issues with some hope amid obstacles. This reporter was present at the Blue Ribbon Committee as well as the first of a series of workshop-meetings back in March of 2009.
These community workshops were coordinated by CPMC as an opportunity for the neighborhood to have a say in the future plans for St. Luke’s.
Yet since those workshops, conflicts between what the hospital once was and what CMPC envisions the hospital to be in the near future seem prevalent.
The most obvious obstacle at the moment is the struggle between CPMC and the California Nurses Association. The CNA and other hospital workers unions have been in contract negotiations for over two years. Yet no agreements have been reached.
The unions fear that CPMC is actually "systematically shutting-down St. Luke’s by reducing its list of services." And in effect will cause St. Luke’s to fail. Other critics of CPMC say the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon panel and subsequent advisory committees have not been truly implemented.
The Nurses Association also holds the point of view that the needs of St. Luke’s is being ignored as plans for a $1.7 billion state-of-the-art medical facility is set for the Cathedral Hill Hotel complex at Van Ness Ave and Geary Blvd. Set along one of San Francisco’s busiest traffic corridors.
As all part of a “master plan”, the 555-bed facility envisioned for Cathedral Hill would be the “command center” and crowning glory of a highly efficient network of medical outreach services to San Francisco within the CPMC system.
Union reps say it would be a non-union facility. And, they say it would be unfortunate if services from St. Luke’s were transferred to Cathedral Hill.
The SF Business Times has also been following the situation reported that the estimated cost for a rebuilt St. Luke’s fluctuates from $200 to $250 million.
Afternoon rally participants on Thurs. July 15 gave testimony and delivered over 1,000 post cards to CMPC officials pleading that the proposed plans not reduce health care services to the community by down-sizing the hospital.
"CPMC with its proposed plans for St. Luke’s wants to reduce services by 60 percent," said Emily Lee, speaking for Chinese Progressive Association, as the group who sponsored the rally.
Lee told the press that the plan to reduce St. Luke’s would impact the community by denying access to health care. A reduction in the number of beds and the shifting of services to other CPMC locations as a result, would only over burden existing San Francisco General Hospital.
Lee also said that SF General and St. Luke’s are the only hospitals in the Mission District and surrounding areas that serves a major portion of the City. Most of that population is working class and low income. SF General is already overcrowded and under funded in its efforts to serve the entire City.
Lee pointed out that CPMC as a non-profit entity it receives tax breaks in the millions, which would allow CPMC to continue St. Luke’s tradition of providing health care to low-income people.
"She is perfectly right when she says CPMC has an obligation to provide affordable or charity care for the community," said CPMC media rep Kevin McCormack. "It’s an obligation we take very seriously. In fact in 2009 we spent $10 million on charity care," he said.
McCormack also noted that the issue concerning the number of hospital beds is taken out of context. We already addressed that issue before assuring that beds will be provided,” said McCormack.
On average the number of beds used is less than 90. Yet CPMC in its dialog with the SF Health Commission plans on maintaining 100 beds.
Nato Green, labor rep for the California Nurses Association said that CPMC wants to make St. Luke’s "a permanent charity case hospital," forcing patients to go else where for specialty needs.
McCormack said that the labor unions and nurses associations have presented a distorted view of the proposed plans. He sees this clearly as a labor dispute. “CPMC is building a brand-new hospital at St. Luke’s precisely because CPMC wants to create a strong future for the facility,” said McCormack.
He noted that the new St. Luke’s will be a non-union facility. But workers can join or form a union if they wish.
“There are many people in that part of San Francisco – stretching from Noe Valley and the Mission to Visitacion Valley and Bayview/Hunters Pt. – who have health insurance and would gladly use St. Luke’s as their medical home," he said.
Attracting patients and physicians is crucial to establishing a viable hospital in the area. McCormack told this reporter at the nurses rally on Aug. 12 at the main campus of CPMC on California Street, that despite the recession economy union workers are being offered a two percent wage increase.
They will have full benefits. Average salary is about $130,000 per year.
Some observers, such as the neighborhood groups and those that served on the advisory committees are concerned. They worry that if contract negotiations continue to stall the window of opportunity to build a new and better St. Luke’s might fade away.
Nato still sees the new plans as "lipstick on a pig," he said. As contract negotiations stall no renovation work on the century-old hospital can be done.
A review hearing of the draft plans will take place on Sept. 23rd. Nato and the unions hopes City Hall will take a more critical analysis of the Master Plan future of CPMC.
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Photo of July 15 youth rally at St. Luke's, courtesy of Chinese Progressive Association, San Francisco, CA
For more information about the situation with St. Luke's Hospital, previous stories that were published in The Mission Dispatch and El Reportero can be found at: www.missiondispatch.com and www.elreporterosf.com
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