UCSF STANFORD: Presidents’ Letter Hints at Dissolution
In a letter addressed to UCSF Stanford Health Care Board Chair Issac Stein, UC President Richard Atkinson and Stanford University President Gerhard Casper said they will "reassess the structure" of the 1997 merger that spawned the system in an effort to save Mount Zion Hospital from financial peril, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. While the letter "stopped short of calling for a divorce, the two presidents left if open whether Stanford's two hospitals would remain under the same management as the University of California's Mount Zion and Parnassus Heights Medical Center." The letter stated that the reassessment, which may include finding a means of making Mount Zion eligible for state support while preserving the merger, will be completed by Oct. 1. San Francisco financier Howard Leach, who is a member of the UC Board of Regents and the UCSF Stanford Health Care board, called the letter a "blank sheet of paper," adding, "something of a cooperative nature will go forward, but it will likely be something different than what exists now." UC Vice President William Gurtner added, "We're talking about restructuring rather than dissolving." Others were not convinced. State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) deemed the letter "'a euphemistic way' of suggesting that the merger will be unravelled," while Warren Gold, president of the UC San Francisco Faculty Association said, "it sounds like the first step toward dissolving the merger.
Much of the $60 million deficit the system is expected to accumulate this year is attributed to Mount Zion Hospital, which is considered by legislators and residents to be a valuable health care provider for poor and minority communities, as well medical students and faculty. UCSF Stanford's status as a private, not-for-profit corporation prevents it from requesting state aid. But Assemblywomen Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) said if the board asks the Legislature to assist Mount Zion, "the questions would be how much, for what, and why they're so deeply in the red." The UCSF Stanford board will convene Aug. 27 to hear a financial strategy developed by UC San Francisco Medical School Dean Haile Debas to prevent the closure of Mount Zion. Additionally, Stein has said he will appoint a committee to "do everything possible to assist in the reassessment" (Abate, 8/6).
Zion Wins Elite Oncology Designation
In related and ironically timed news, the National Cancer Institute yesterday named the UC-San Francisco cancer center, based at Mount Zion Hospital, to a select group of 59 national oncology programs. The designation, which the UCSF program has been trying to secure for 10 years, makes the Mt. Zion program "eligible for special grants to support collaborative research and pay for big-ticket items," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The hospital is the only one in Northern California to win the honor, which the Chronicle reports "raises new questions about the future of high-profile medical specialties now clustered around the financially troubled Mt. Zion hospital." Cancer Center Director Frank McCormick noted that "[r]elatively little cancer care requires overnight hospitalization, so most patients would not be directly affected by a shutdown of Mt. Zion." A shutdown would, however, be "an inconvenience" for surgeons and oncologists, who would be forced to provide treatment at the main UCSF medical center on Parnassus Avenue (Hill, 8/5).