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Families fear death for patients told to ship out from SF hospital
For more than a year, 77-year-old Leneta Anderson has taken both the bus and train from her home in Silver Terrace to visit her husband at a hospital in the Mission District.
Richard Anderson, 82, was hooked up to a breathing tube at St. Luke’s hospital in March 2016 after a medical procedure went wrong and landed him in the emergency room, nearing death.
Leneta Anderson spends hours at the hospital keeping her husband company, often staying until Family Feud comes on the television in the evening. She plays her husband music from the 1950s. She spoon feeds him and rubs his back.
But Lenata Anderson fears their time together could be cut short in October, when Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center is slated to close the skilled nursing facility and subacute unit at St. Luke’s, relocating the patients outside of The City.
The skilled nursing facility is the last in San Francisco to provide long-term subacute care for patients with tracheostomies who are on ventilators and use feeding tubes. The patients are just a step away from being in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, city health officials say there are a limited number of subacute units in the Bay Area and all of them are running at or near capacity. Richard Anderson could be moved as far away as Los Angeles.
“It will, I would say, kill my husband if they take him out of San Francisco and I can’t get to him,” Leneta said. “And I’m not just talking about Walnut Creek or San Mateo, they’re talking about Los Angeles … I would have to fly there.”
On Tuesday, the Health Commission delayed voting on a resolution on whether the planned closure of the skilled nursing facility at St. Luke’s will have a detrimental impact on health care services San Francisco.
San Francisco is projecting a shortage of skilled nursing facility beds as the population ages and hospitals in The City and across the nation continue to remove the beds, resulting in what some are calling a health crisis.
San Francisco has lost 30 percent of the beds since 2003, according to according to city health officials.
The Health Commission does not have the authority to overturn the decision but can put pressure on hospitals that are cutting health services under 1988’s Proposition Q, which requires private hospitals to give public notice.
Sutter Health notified city officials in June that it would remove all 79 skilled nursing beds, including 40 for patients that need subacute care. The company is planning to open two hospitals in San Francisco, but neither will include skilled nursing beds under a development agreement with city officials from 2013.
CPMC CEO Dr. Warren Browner told the Health Commission that the company has recognized since 2011 the need for skilled nursing beds in San Francisco.
“We are disappointed that that agreement was changed in the process of the negotiations,” Browner said. “There’s a lot of blame to go around. We accept some. I think The City should accept some.”
Richard Anderson is one of two dozen patients remaining on the subacute floor.
His daughter, Laurie Anderson, has had trouble finding subacute care for him. Laurie Anderson said she has been turned away from six nursing homes, including one as far away as San Jose.
“If they move him to Los Angeles or something like that, what does that mean,” she said. “I can’t even think about that.”
“It would just kill her and him,” she said of her parents.
Browner said the hospital will provide treatment for the patients until they are moved to another facility.
“We will of course work with any of our patients who remain at St. Luke’s after Oct. 31 and their families to find the very best fit,” Browner said.
Raquel Rivera, whose sister is mentally disabled and a patient in the subacute unit, disputed whether the hospital is working with families to relocate patients as it claims.
“You need to have a dead heart to move these patients away from their families,” Rivera said Tuesday at a news conference outside City Hall.
CPMC is building two new hospitals in San Francisco, with a Mission Bernal Campus replacing St. Luke’s in June 2018 and another on Van Ness Avenue set to open in early 2019.
At the Health Commission, Vice President David Pating asked Browner to consider delaying the closure beyond October.
“It concerns me that we don’t have a plan in The City about how to replace the beds,” Pating said. “We’re a sinking ship without a lifeboat.”
Browner said that CPMC has “to prepare for the transition to new facilities.”
“We can’t keep pushing everything back and do everything at the last minute,” Browner said. “It would not be a responsible solution.”
The Health Commission resolution on whether the closure will have a detrimental impact on San Francisco will be heard again Sept. 5.