Protestors gathered outside St. Luke's on a cold Tuesday night.

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Candle light flickered outside St. Luke’s Hospital on Tuesday night as some 75 nurses, church leaders and Mission residents held a vigil to protest the proposed downsizing of the facility and to demand new contracts for nurses.

“We want contracts and we want to keep this place open,” said Siony Servillon, a senior nurse at St. Luke’s who has worked at the hospital for almost 35 years. “If they are going to rebuild, we want it the same size or bigger.”

Candles were lit as the sun went down.

The hospital, which has a 215-bed capacity, would be closed and replaced in 2012 by a new, earthquake-safe facility with 86 beds  if plans for a city-wide restructuring of the California Pacific Medical Center’s four facilities are approved by the Board of Supervisors next year.

The proposed changes to the hospital network would centralize care at a new, 550-bed hospital in the Tenderloin while getting rid of the hospital on the center’s California campus entirely and downsizing St. Luke’s.

“They are going to go to the Board of Supervisors to ask them to tear the heart out of this hospital,” said Shum Preston, a spokesperson for the California Nurses Association, which organized the vigil.

“It’s a lifeline for the whole southwestern sector of the city. All the working class neighborhoods in San Francisco depend on this institution.”

Medical center administrators say the new hospital would improve health care through private rooms, expanded emergency facilities, a labor and delivery unit, and a surgical unit.

They also say the new, smaller hospital wouldn’t represent a major reduction in the number of beds that are available for patients.

Although St. Luke’s is licensed to have more than 200 beds, it only operates about 130 per day, and less than half of those are for acute-care patients that spend more than 24-hours in the hospital, medical center spokesman Kevin McCormack told Mission Loc@l via email.

But nurses said they do not trust California Pacific, which is a subsidiary of Sutter Health. They said the center refuses to offer them fair contracts and may be planning to close the hospital all together in a few years.

“CPMC is not respecting nurses and patients and we’re the backbone of the hospital,” said Eileen Prendeville, a certified nurse and a member of the nurses association negotiating committee. “Downsizing the hospital will probably mean it won’t be financially viable.”

She said medical center nurses have been without a contract for two and a half years and went on strike three times last year to protect their health insurance and working conditions.

That eventually helped them win a pay raise, but that was suspended at the beginning of this year when the medical center imposed a wage freeze to cut costs, she said.

Now the center is limiting nurse’s health insurance options by forcing them to use a Sutter Health plan  beginning next year that will include $200 per month premiums, according to Prendeville.

This would be the first time nurses at St. Luke’s have paid insurance premiums, she said.

After the sun went down, protestors lit candles to bring attention to their fight against the medical center’s administrators.

“Little by little they are taking our services away,” said. Linda Carter, 62, a nurse who has worked at St. Luke’s for more than 40 years. “If they downsize, it will be really hard for the people in the area, especially the old people who can’t commute easily.”

Silas Borden outside St. Luke’s on Tuesday evening.

As the protestors picketed and sang, a patient made his way out of the hospital using a walker and voiced his support.

“When I’m sick, this is the only place I got to go because San Francisco General is so busy,” said Silas Borden, a Medi-Cal patient at St. Luke’s who is dying from late-stage liver and lung cancer.

“I don’t know what I’ll do if we lose this hospital or the services get cut. I’ll be screwed and so will other people like me.”

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Bryan Gibel

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bryan has a background in investigative reporting for newspapers and the radio. He is working the health beat for Mission Loc@l.

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  1. This is a well written news story, but it really should contain the facts of the story–and comments from CPMC. The nurses’ union complaints are so off-base and wrong-headed and don’t give readers the full view of this story. If it were not for California Pacific Medical Center and Sutter Health there wouldn’t be healthcare in the Mission. The CNA should stop complaining and get real: The plan that is being put into place was approved by the CNA! The union took part in the local citizens advisory group that recommended this new facility for the Mission District. The unfortunate reality of the CNA’s whining is that they are trying to get a contract with unreasonable demands. The whole protest isn’t about healthcare in the Mission, it’s about the self-centered motives of the CNA. BTW: CPMC offers a free health care option for its employees and their dependents – virtually unheard of any more in this day and age. Time for CNA to Wake up and get real: do the right thing, stop protesting and start doing something positive in the Mission community.

  2. I am the communications director at California Pacific Medical Center and I wish to set the record straight with regards to the real motives behind Tuesday’s protest and CPMC’s future plans for its St. Luke’s campus.

    It’s ironic that the CNA poses as a protector of patients while at the same time holds the safety of patients ransom to meet their contract demands. The old St. Luke’s is in desperate need of replacement and the people of the Mission deserve a world-class hospital with all private patient rooms and the same level of care that they would get at other CPMC campuses. But CNA is trying to stop that to protect its lifeblood: union dues. They are trying to force CPMC to make all nurses union members. While we agree that every nurse has the right to join a union if he/she so desires, we also believe that nurses have the right not to be forced to join if they so desire. We won’t do anything that forces our nurses to be part of a union if they don’t want to be. A legally-supervised election is the only fair way to vote for unionization. This does not settle well with CNA, so they take their protest to the street and veil the true reason for why they hold out on a good contract.

    The union claims we are planning on closing St. Luke’s. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one proposes spending about a quarter billion dollars on a hospital if they are going to walk away from it in a few years. There is no “downsizing” planned. On the contrary, more acute care beds are being planned than are currently being used. CPMC is committed to the future of St. Luke’s. In fact, just this week we opened a brand new Orthopedic Trauma Clinic at St. Luke’s to offer our patients the best in spine, sports medicine, foot, ankle, joint replacements and fracture care.

    As for claims that CPMC hasn’t offered the nurses a fair contract, I don’t see how offering our nurses an agreement that would bring the average full-time nurse’s salary to $137,000 a year, with a free health care option for themselves and their families is not fair. I think most people would love to have a job with those kinds of benefits.

    Please don’t be misled. Please get the facts. And let’s work collectively to make St. Luke’s a thriving center for health and healing for generations to come.

    Cynthia Chiarappa, communications director at CPMC

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