UCSF STANFORD: To Close ER, Inpatient Services at Ailing Mt. Zion
In a unanimous vote, the UCSF Stanford Health Care board of directors yesterday approved a recommendation to cut emergency and inpatient services at San Francisco-based Mount Zion Hospital. The ailing 113-year-old hospital, which serves a largely low-income community, is blamed for $60 million of the system's $86 million in losses during the last fiscal year. The vote came "after intense efforts by legislators to come up with a financial package for as much as $20 million a year -- and the 11th-hour collapse of a bid to win support from Gov. Gray Davis," who ultimately backed off after his advisers recommended against "bailing out a hospital no longer owned by the public." Although not finalized, plans call for using Mount Zion as an outpatient facility providing 23-hour stays and downgrading the emergency room to an urgent care center. Such a move would allow the hospital to avoid the estimated $24.5 million cost of renovating to comply with earthquake safety codes, which only apply to hospitals set up for inpatient stays of more than 24 hours. In order to actualize the recommendation, the board must also support an estimated $12.9 million renovation to Moffitt-Long Hospital on UCSF's main campus in Parnassus Heights, which would be asked to accommodate most of Mount Zion's inpatient load (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/24). The Hunter Group's David Hunter, brought in earlier this year to help turn the system around, estimated that closing inpatient and ER services would save $15 million to $20 million a year.
Mount Zion staff protested the cuts, "saying the facility is crucial to its aging and largely poor population," many of whom are recent immigrants. Some supporters threatened to stage public protests during the 90 days the system must wait before closing the hospital (Locke, AP/Contra Costa Times, 9/24). Assembly Appropriations Committee staff member Bill Wehrle accused USCF Stanford of catering to more affluent patients, saying, "They want to avoid rebuilding a hospital that serves mainly the poor." Dr. Laurel Hodgson, medical director of Mount Zion's ER, said that "she does not believe it will be possible to keep the department running through the end of the year" as staff members leave for other jobs (Russell, 9/24). The Chronicle reports that the news of the vote yesterday hit staff members hard. Although most have been assured of jobs elsewhere in the UCSF Stanford system, "the jobs are small consolation to the team that has become a close-knit family" (Finz, 9/24).