St. Luke’s neonatal unit plan opposed

A controversial plan to close the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Luke’s Hospital has been scaled back, officials from the medical facility’s parent company told city health commissioners Tuesday, but the new proposal still met with opposition.

The Health Commission meeting, called a Proposition Q hearing, is mandated by a city law passed by voters in 1998 that requires private hospitals and clinics to consult with the public and the Health Commission before reducing services.

Officials with California Pacific Medical Center, which owns St. Luke’s, said Tuesday that the new plan is to turn St. Luke’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit into a “Special Care Nursery” and a “Mother-Baby Care Unit,” with some premature babies and their mothers transferred to the health organization’s California Campus, near the corner of California Street and Arguello Boulevard.

As a result, the number of registered nurses who care for newborn babies and their mothers would be decreased at St. Luke’s, which is at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Valencia streets.

Some premature babies would no longer be delivered at St. Luke’s under the new proposal. Babies born after 34 or 35 weeks of pregnancy would instead be delivered at CPMC’s California Campus.

Julie Clayton, vice president of Women and Children’s Services at the California Campus, called the change a consolidation of services.

Clayton said it takes about 40 minutes to arrange medical transport to the California Campus and another 15 to 20 minutes to drive there.

The new proposal was criticized by commissioners and by doctors and nurses who attended the hearing. St. Luke’s serves members of poor, multicultural communities close to their homes, they said.

St. Luke’s obstetrician Laura Norrell told commissioners the proposed change would mean women and children will receive care further from their homes, and she described a pattern of downsizing at her hospital.

“The nursery has been downgraded three times in 10 years,” she said.

Commissioner Catherine Dodd warned of a “death by a thousand cuts” to the neonatal unit at St. Luke’s.

Additionally, Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, Michela Alioto-Pier and Tom Ammiano sent messages to the commission to object to the new proposal.

Commissioners will schedule a second hearing on the proposal before ruling on whether it will negatively affect health care services to the community, according to commission spokeswoman Eileen Shields. The commission has no power to prevent the proposed change, she said.

In October, CPMC officials announced long-range plans to also send St. Luke’s acute emergency-care patients to the organization’s other San Francisco’s hospitals.

jupton@examiner.com

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