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.”
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.”
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.”