SF Chronicle Op-Ed — St. Luke’s Hospital Should Be Deal Breaker

In an ideal world, hospitals would accept all patients, regardless of insurance type. They would provide translation for the many languages spoken in San Francisco. Hospitals would stay open as long as the community needed and would serve everyone who walked through its doors. Obviously, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Last week, information was leaked showing that California Pacific Medical Center is not as committed to renovating and operating St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District as California Pacific would want us to think. Monday, the health care provider rejected the mayor’s request to sign an ironclad agreement committing the medical center to keep St. Luke’s open for 20 years.

Some people say that St. Luke’s shouldn’t be a deal breaker between the mayor and California Pacific, and that the city should continue to approve the new 555-bed hospital the health care provider wants to build on Cathedral Hill at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street, while downsizing St. Luke’s Hospital from 229 to 80 beds. But for those of us whose families live, work and play in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, that isn’t an option.

For us, St. Luke’s is a deal breaker. Last summer, we spent eight weeks surveying more than 350 Excelsior residents to see what their health needs were, along with high school students who are part of the Youth Movement for Justice Organizing. Our results were surprising.

Compared with the average San Franciscan, respondents in the Excelsior are four times more likely to be uninsured. More than half of the Excelsior respondents get health care through government or publicly funded health insurance such as Medicare, Medi-Cal, Healthy Families or Healthy SF. Yet, California Pacific’s record clearly demonstrates that privately insured patients are its priority. The exception is its St. Luke’s campus, which has always served a higher proportion of low-income patients.

Our survey also showed that 1 in 4 Excelsior residents regularly spends 60 minutes or more traveling to see his or her health provider. If your bus is running late or breaks down, it could take twice that amount of time. St. Luke’s and San Francisco General are the only two hospitals in the southeastern section of the city. If California Pacific does decide that it’s more cost-effective to close St. Luke’s rather than operate it at a loss for low-income patients, then we are left with just one hospital for that entire part of the city.

Based on our survey, the community not only needs St. Luke’s to stay open for at least 20 years (if not more), it also needs more services to make St. Luke’s sustainable for the long term.

So yes, without an ironclad agreement to operate St. Luke’s, this is a deal breaker, because our priority should be making sure all San Franciscans have access to health care. Without the services St. Luke’s provides, many families will find it more difficult to access health care.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stephanie Chan and Andy Kuang are leaders of Youth MOJO, a youth program of the Chinese Progressive Association. The program works on social issues affecting working-class families. Read the report at: www.cpasf.org/creatinghealthycommunities/healthcare