How the debate over CPMC's controversial multi-hospital project revived the idea of healthcare planning in San Francisco
"St. Luke's Hospital was the big issue that got our attention," Le Tim Ly, lead organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association, told the Guardian. His group has worked with residents in the city's southeast sector around environmental justice, air quality, and pollution issues when they became aware of the threat to St. Luke's. "All this, coupled with efforts to downsize Luke's, left us alarmed by the disproportionate impact on an already impacted area."
But alarm over CPMC's plans has now revived the idea of healthcare planning.
MAKING A PLAN
As recently as the beginning of November, representatives for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California — whose members include CPMC, Chinese Hospital, Jewish Home, Kaiser Permanente, Laguna Honda, St Luke's, St. Mary's, San Francisco General Hospital, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center — seemed opposed to any change in the way healthcare planning is done in San Francisco.
At a Nov. 1 hearing on the Campos legislation at the board's Land Use and Economic Development Committee, Ron Smith, the Hospital Council's senior vice president for advocacy, said his organization favored maintaining the city's current procedures. "We would like to propose that the Health Commission does the planning, the Planning Commission does the land use, and that there is a required determination process which is in the current legislation," Smith said. "We're proposing that that continue."
But two weeks later, after Campos amended his legislation so projects now in the planning pipeline are exempt from having to comply with the city's health care services master plan, some members of the Hospital Council seemed to have a change of heart.
CPMC's Chief Executive Officer Warren Browner surprised just about everybody when he publicly stated in mid-November that CPMC supports health care planning. "We strongly support the efforts of the city — we are in favor of health planning," Browner said at a Nov. 15 hearing on the legislation.
"That statement was extraordinary," said Lucy Johns, recalling CPMC's history of resisting government control. "The conversation about this legislation has already changed the discourse, at least in public."
Linda Schumacher, chief executive officer of Chinese Hospital, a community-owned, not-for-profit facility, explained at the same hearing that her organization had been concerned that Campos' legislation would affect her hospital's ability to move ahead with a $150 million project that has been in the pipeline since 2003.
"We thank you for that amendment that allows the effective date to be changed," she said.
"It shows how much progress had been made, even before this legislation goes into effect," Campos said of the hospital industry's apparent shift in attitude. "It's a monumental step, something that was not expected as recently as a few months ago."
But Ly of the Chinese Progressive Association said he believes the Hospital Council still doesn't want to see the city getting involved. "As recently as a month ago, their folks were speaking out against any kind of legislation. But I think they started seeing the writing on the wall."
Ly fretted about the potential negative impact of Campos' last-minute amendments. "Sup. Campos' plan represents a victory. But we could use that information as soon as possible. The 2013 deadline means the city will be handicapped: it will have information it can't use yet."