By ARMAND EMAMDJOMEH
Lined up across the stage, district supervisors, members of the chamber of commerce, and the heads of the Democratic, Green and Republican parties joined in applause. In front, hard hats, business suits, lab coats and hospital scrubs stood on the grassy lawn as Mayor Gavin Newsom outlined the plan to save San Francisco General Hospital: Proposition A, which would allow the city to take out an $887.4 million bond to build an earthquake-proof building by 2015.
If the bond fails to be approved by at least two-thirds of voters, it is unclear what will happen to San Francisco’s health care system, as under California seismic-safety legislation SB 1953 all acute care hospitals must meet safety standards or close by 2013.
Ed Kinchley, a social worker in the emergency ward, was more direct. “San Francisco would be left without a major trauma center,” he said. San Francisco General also hosts several specialty clinics, and provides half of all psychiatric, HIV and substance abuse treatment in the city. Kinchley expressed his concern that the largest challenge was getting enough voters to vote and approve the proposition.
Mayor Newsom referred to a need to “renew the trust” in government, referring to the reconstruction of Laguna Honda hospital, which has cost nearly double its proposed $299 million. To provide what it hopes will be a more accurate figure for the reconstruction of San Francisco General, the city has spent $25 million on programming, design and development work before proposing the measure. Should the measure pass, site preparation will begin in the summer of 2009.
San Francisco Republican Party chairman Howard Epstein drew attention to the measure’s broad base of support, pointing out “the San Francisco Republican Party does not support bonds very often.” The party has refused to support 11 consecutive proposed bonds since 2001, of which five have failed.
Epstein was “confident that all the planning has been done” and that using a bond is the most affordable means of financing the construction.
San Francisco General contains the only level 1 trauma center in the Bay Area, which provides the highest level of 24-hour emergency surgical care, and serves more than 98,000 patients annually. The bond will finance the construction of a new nine-story earthquake-proof building.
“There’s no indication that other hospitals even want our patients,” said Mary Magee, an obstetric nurse who works in the hospital. Sixty-four percent of patients are uninsured or covered by Medi-Cal. The proposition is essential to allow San Francisco General to continue its mission, she said, “to make sure the poorest of the poor receive healthcare.”