Hospitals' ability to handle crisis is deteriorating

Half of The City’s hospitals are considered overcrowded and in less than 25 years will suffer a shortage of hundreds of acute-care beds, according to a report that will be discussed today by the Health Commission.

“There will be a significant shortage of acute hospital beds in San Francisco by 2030,” according to a newly released report conducted for the Controller’s Office by Falls Church, Va.-based consulting firm Lewin Group.

San Francisco would be short 533 acute-care beds, or 24 percent, according to the report.

The report warns that “absent new capacity, The City’s hospitals will increasingly lack adequate surge capacity to meet demand in the event of a public safety or public health emergency.”

The report comes as San Francisco voters are expecting a bond measure of at least $800 million on the November ballot that would fund therebuild of San Francisco General Hospital.

Advocates say the project, which comes as other private hospitals look toward construction projects as well, is needed to meet the state’s seismic requirements.

Gene Marie O’Connell, the chief executive officer of San Francisco General Hospital, said that while the hospital could build more floors to accommodate more patients, the project’s estimates are already asking voters to approve the largest bond they have ever seen. A bond would require a two-thirds vote for approval.

“We’re doing what we can do, knowing that we are spending taxpayers’ money,” she said, adding that other hospitals could help address the acute bed need.

San Francisco General, which is the only area hospital with a trauma center, accounts for 15 percent of the acute beds in The City.

City Controller Ed Harrington said the report “highlights key challenges for the Department of Public Health and other healthcare providers in The City in the coming decades,” including the need to increase the amount of outpatient, community-based services.

“Half of the hospitals in San Francisco currently exceed the desired occupancy level of 80 percent, an industry standard, or 85 percent, which is typically considered full,” the report says.

San Francisco General Hospital, which the report says is operating at 97 percent occupancy, provides more than half of the psychiatric, HIV, and substance-abuse care in The City.

Ron Smith, regional vice president for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, said the projected acute bed shortage “is a huge problem,” which could result in a delay in operations.

Nonetheless, San Francisco General received high marks.

“Despite factors that tend to decrease efficiency, such as a high daily census and an aging physical plant, General Hospital has high productivity and is financially effective,” Harrington said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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