By ARMAND EMAMDJOMEH
As neighbors, city officials, and staff filled the small gymnasium of the Precita Center to discuss their vision of the new St. Luke’s Hospital Tuesday night, one sentiment quickly became clear.
“I just don’t trust CPMC.”
That thought, said by Rick Hauptmann, president of the North Mission Neighborhood Alliance but echoed by many other community members about the California Pacific Medical Center. Since 2007, St. Luke’s Hospital has been part of the medical center’s four-hospital network in San Francisco. The center is a subsidiary of Sutter Health.
Responding to requests for comment, the medical center’s spokesman Kevin McCormack said via email that while the design of the exterior is still under consideration, the current plan for rebuilding St. Luke’s envisions an 80 to 86 bed hospital with private rooms, emergency room facilities, a labor and delivery unit and a surgical unit.
Medical center officials said St. Luke’s currently has 225 beds compared to 257 in 1999, before it became part of Sutter Health, according to a report by The Lewin Group for the California Attorney General’s office.
Mary Michelucci, a nurse at St. Luke’s, took issue with plans to downsize the intensive care unit to six beds, saying that the other day she had 12 patients in intensive care, with eight on ventilators.
“If it were a state of the art hospital, it would be a moneymaker,” for its owners, Rosabella Safont, associate director of the Mission Economic Development Agency said after the meeting, “they don’t really want a hospital there.”
Responding to criticism of the reduced size of the new St. Luke’s, McCormack said the hospital is “now part of a system of care, a series of hospitals – all within a few miles of each other – that can deliver world class care for any medical need.”
“If you are seriously ill and need open heart surgery or a liver transplant then you want that done in the best place possible, even if that means traveling a couple of miles further to get it.”
Other members of the community saw the meeting as an opportunity to provide input to the planning process.
This is “the chance of everybody’s lifetime to fix the hospital,” said Tim Brennan, who lives next to the campus that begins at Cesar Chavez and Valencia. “This could turn the neighborhood around.”
While some residents advocated for better pediatric and senior services at the new hospital, others commented on the layout of the proposed facility.
Brennan’s wife, Marianna Ferris, added that while commendable, the site plan “doesn’t have enough space for what we need.” Ferris said that the presence of a major hospital facility was too much for the small streets and houses that comprise the rest of the neighborhood. She noted that one house on the block has already been rotated to accommodate the hospital, with its windows just a few inches from the hospital wall.
It’s like trying to take a big building and “shoehorn it into a little box.”
Bonnie Ora Sherk, director of A Living Library, also took issue with the campus layout, saying that it should involve “buildings and open spaces together,” integrating natural water that runs under the campus.
“If they want to make this hospital succeed, they can do it,” Hauptmann said after the meeting.
The community’s distrust comes from an earlier effort by the California group to downgrade St Luke’s to an outpatient clinic by this year. At the same time it planned to build a new 550-bed facility in Cathedral Hill.
The move enraged both residents and city officials, who expect more from the hospital, which aside from San Francisco General is the only hospital in southeastern San Francisco.
After Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced a resolution censuring California Pacific and opening the door to possible legal action, California Pacific convened a “Blue Ribbon Panel” on the future of the hospital. While there is no legal mandate for the medical center to adopt the findings of the panel, any plans will have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
McCormack said trust will come as people see the “time, energy and money we are putting into the project,” which he said will cost approximately $220 million.
Residents believe St. Luke’s owners want to abandon it in favor of their proposed location for a new hospital on Cathedral Hill, which they say would draw more affluent clientele.
“They’re not going to get anything through the Board of Supervisors if they think of St. Luke’s as an afterthought,” said District Nine Supervisor David Campos after the meeting. “Clearly what we hear from the community is that they need to do more.”
Hauptmann described the challenged posed by the supes to California Pacific:
“You want Cathedral Hill? Give us a really good and functioning St. Luke’s.”