The Planning Commission took a first step Thursday toward a project to build a 555-bed hospital in the Tenderloin. The plan would also reduce St. Luke’s from a 225- to an 86-bed facility, and would alter the rest of the California Pacific Medical Center’s four-hospital network in San Francisco.
About 150 people struggled to get into the commission meeting and officers had to shut the doors to the room so it wouldn’t overflow.
Residents and commissioners both worried that reducing St. Luke’s capacity by more than 60 percent would leave the Mission and much of San Francisco without enough access to nearby medical care.
“If you look at the map, you will see this wide expanse of nothing, but there are a lot of single-family dwellings and condominiums there,” said Betty Landis, an Aging and Adult Services commissioner who spoke during public comment. “These people need health services also.”
The master plan passed through public comment by a vote of 5 to 2, and the commission will now begin a more in-depth investigation of how each hospital project would impact its surrounding environment. That should be completed and voted upon early next year, said Commissioner William Lee.
If the Planning Commission approves the rebuild project, it will get sent to the Board of Supervisors for further review.
The plan would make the new hospital at Cathedral Hill in the Tenderloin the centerpiece of the California Pacific Medical Center’s vision for its hospitals in the city. The center is a subsidiary of Sutter Health.
Top medical center administrators said that would allow them to provider better quality and more cost-effective care.
Labor leaders from unions related to the construction industry also advocated that the new hospital project be approved.
Even commissioners who accepted the plan, however, were critical, saying the proposal would impact property prices in the Tenderloin and require revisions to the zoning code because of the building’s size and height.
“When you bring that many employees into that location, your rents are going to skyrocket in the area,” said Commission President Ron Miguel. “That will change the neighborhood form what it is now. It will be automatic.”
The new building, which would be built at Geary Boulevard and S. Van Ness Avenue, would require the demolition of 25 housing units and several small businesses, and would displace 14 people.
Medical Center administrators said they would build alternative housing and relocate people, but residents said they haven’t seen a firm commitment yet.
“I’m a senior citizen living entirely on social security,” said John Cragin, a resident whose apartment will be demolished if the new hospital is built. “My main concern is that we have affordable housing and that we be assured of that before we are evicted.”
Other criticism centered on the downsizing of St. Luke’s.
Advocates of the new hospital point out that the new building would meet state-mandated earthquake standards and would feature private rooms, expanded emergency room facilities, a labor and delivery unit, and a surgical unit.
But several planning commissioners expressed concerns that the smaller hospital will leave the Mission and other communities without enough hospital space.
The proposal to downsize St. Luke’s comes as San Francisco General Hospital is beginning construction on a new hospital rebuild of its own, but the project will only result in a net increase of 32 beds.
That’s nowhere near the number of beds that could be decreased at St. Luke’s, and commissioners said a smaller hospital may not be able to meet the health care demand of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We need to have a separate hearing on St. Luke’s specifically, because there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Commissioner Gwyneth Borden. “What everyone wants is certainty that St. Luke’s will meet the community’s needs.”
No date or time for a separate hearing on St. Luke’s was made public at the time of the meeting.