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Hospital Building Battle Moves to SF City Hall

The Bay Citizen, 6/8/11

By: Katharine Mieszkowski
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

California Pacific Medical Center says it cannot afford to meet protesters' demands.

The ongoing battle between California Pacific Medical Center and city leaders and union and community groups over its plans to build a new hospital intensified this week, when the health care provider said it could not afford to meet the city's conditions for developing a site on Cathedral Hill.

Community groups fired back on Wednesday, saying CPMC should do even more for the city's residents.

At a rally on the steps of City Hall, Tenderloin residents, union nurses and representatives from a bevy of community groups chanted, “CPMC. You ain’t got no alibi. You’re greedy. You’re greedy,” while holding signs reading “Stop Corporate Greed.”

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi rallied the crowd from the podium, shouting “No blank check to CPMC. We must stand our ground!” Supervisors Eric Mar, Jane Kim and David Campos also spoke at the rally.

Mayor Ed Lee is in the midst of negotiating a development agreement with the hospital over its multi-billion-dollar plan to rebuild its facilities in San Francisco, including a 555-bed hospital on Cathedral Hill.

On May 16, the Mayor requested $108 million of community improvements, including more services for the poor and transit subsidies. On Monday, CPMC countered that those requests would actually cost $1.7 billion over the long-term. “It would be an understatement to say that we can’t afford those numbers. Nobody could,” Dr. Warren Browner, CEO of CPMC said in a statement.

But the community and labor groups rallying at City Hall on Wednesday said that those requests do not go far enough.

“We’re calling for CPMC to negotiate a community benefits agreement with community stakeholders in addition to the development agreement they’re negotiating with the City,” said Gordon Mar, coordinator of Jobs with Justice.

Rally organizers are especially concerned about the future of St. Luke’s hospital in the Mission District, which serves mostly immigrants, poor and the elderly. As the Bay Citizen reported <http://www.baycitizen.org/health/story/aging-hospital-seen-bargaining-chip/comments/#comments> , the hospital's facilities are outdated. It lacks air conditioning and currently serves far fewer patients than its license allows. CPMC plans to tear down it down and rebuild a smaller 80-bed hospital in its place, while consolidating specialty care at its new Cathedral Hill hospital.

“They are just chasing down the patients with good health insurance and abandoning low and moderate income families, which will push them to the city public health system, particularly San Francisco General Hospital, which is already overloaded,” said Mar. “We’re asking for St. Luke’s to be rebuilt as a full-service hospital serving the underserved communities in Southeast San Francisco.”

CPMC officials charge that the demands the community groups presented to the Mayor’s office on Wednesday would raise their costs even further.

“It is easy to be generous when you’re spending other people’s money,” said Kevin McCormack, spokesman for California Pacific Medical Center. “It just makes the project fiscally unfeasible.”

Following the press conference, the groups went to the Mayor's office to deliver a "Term Sheet for Community Benefits Agreement," as well as a letter thanking the Mayor for his support. The Mayor did not emerge from his office to accept the community groups’ materials -- he sent a representative. Yet, he had addressed the issue at an event earlier in the day.

At a ceremony to celebrate a milestone in the construction of a new city building on Wednesday morning, Mayor Lee said that community representatives had been meeting with CPMC officials in recent months in an effort to negotiate a community benefits package.

When those talks failed, the representatives asked the city to negotiate directly with the hospital.

Lee said CPMC needs to help offset traffic congestion expected in the busy part of the city and that it could do a lot more to provide free health care to the poor.

“We’re not grading them by comparing them with other private hospitals,” Lee told reporters. “But we do believe that they have a social responsibility to help with all of our low income residents in the city. . . It’s right next to the Tenderloin, and that’s the hardest part of our city -- we have so many poor indigent individuals.”

Lee said he planned to meet with CPMC staff on Wednesday and that negotiations could continue until August, when the San Francisco Planning Commission is scheduled to consider providing needed permits.

“We're under a time frame where we have to have discussion completed by the month of August,” Lee said. “This is why negotiations have to happen now.”

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