LAGUNA HONDA: Bond Issue Sparks Debate Over Care of Elderly
Controversy over the $299 million bond issue to rebuild Laguna Honda Hospital has given rise to a larger debate over the "type of care San Francisco should supply to its elderly and disabled residents," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Opponents of the bond issue, to be decided by ballot Nov. 2, argue that the funds should be used to help the area's elderly and disabled live independently, not to invest in a "relic of times gone by, when the frail elderly and disabled were dumped into large public institutions and forgotten." More cost-effective methods of care exist, they contend, noting that the money, which would come from the city's share of a national settlement with tobacco companies, should be dispersed among an array of local health care groups. Under the ballot proposition, the only "non-Laguna" annual expenditure of the $21 million from the tobacco agreement would be $1 million dedicated to anti-smoking programs. According to Supervisor Gavin Newsom, "There was no debate at the (Board of Supervisors) and no public debate at all on how to spend the tobacco settlement money. It's absolutely unfair to take all but $1 million a year for Laguna Hospital." He added that "there's no model anywhere for what we're doing here. We're putting all our resources into one institution that the day it opens won't meet the needs of the community." Herb Levine of the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco agreed, saying that "there are no services within the four walls of a room that can't be provided in the community."
On the Other Hand
Proponents of the bond measure contend that the city will be unable to provide the specialized care needed by the elderly and disabled if the reconstruction project is not approved. Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the city's Department of Public Health, said that about 9% of the hospital's patients remain vegetative, while 45% suffer from severe dementia. "Few can be transferred to other local nursing homes," he explained, because they are "not equipped to deal with the range of problems that many Laguna Hospital residents have." Skepticism on the part of many officials and local health leaders, however, means that supporters must stage a "major campaign to persuade" the two-thirds of voters needed for passage. To fund the drive, proponents have looked to the city's public employee unions, which thus far have pitched in over $90,000. This seems to have opened another can of worms: Bond opponents complain that the union effort is "as much an attempt to save high-paid union jobs as it is to help San Francisco's elderly" (Wildermuth, 10/19).