City should accept $1.1 billion for new hospital

For six years, San Francisco officials have been playing hard-to-get over a proposed 555-bed hospital on Cathedral Hill. Mayor Ed Lee’s latest demand for about $2 billion over 50 years from the California Pacific Medical Center is so exorbitant that you’d think the company was trying to construct a coal-burning plant at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard instead of a state-of-the-art medical facility that will improve the health and save the lives of city residents.

San Franciscans are aging. More than one-quarter of residents are 55 or older; 41 percent are 45 or older. With predictions that health care services are going to be strained in the coming decades as baby boomers retire, The City is going to need all of the doctors, nurses and hospital beds it can get.

CPMC wants to construct a $1.9 billion facility that will create 1,500 high-paying union construction jobs, retain the jobs of the 6,800 people who work for CPMC and care for hundreds of thousands of people every year, including providing one-third of San Francisco’s emergency room services and delivering more than 7,000 babies annually. In addition, the company wants to spend $250 million rebuilding the aging St. Luke’s Hospital, the only privately run hospital in the Mission district.

This is not some shady, fly-by-night operation. For five consecutive years, CPMC has been named one of the top hospitals in the U.S. by the nonprofit Leapfrog Group — one of only three hospitals nationwide to receive that honor at least four years in a row.

The one rap on CPMC is that in the past it has not been as generous in charity care as other local hospitals, providing just under 1 percent of net patient revenue, versus St. Mary’s 1.8 percent and St. Francis’ 4.1 percent. But the company is making amends. It contributed a very generous $89 million in charity care in 2009.

And it has recently offered an additional $1.1 billion to provide health care for low-income and uninsured people in San Francisco over the next 10 years. That includes the creation of the Center for Tenderloin Health to support community-based providers, establishment of the Center for Excellence in Community Health at St. Luke’s providing primary care and chronic disease management, and development of the Center of Excellence in Senior Health at St. Luke’s.

In addition, CPMC has agreed to provide nearly $50 million for affordable housing, workforce development, transit improvements and pedestrian safety in The City.

And none of this will cost San Francisco taxpayers one dime. You might think city officials would be appreciative or at least receptive. Instead, they seem intent on looking this gift hospital in the mouth.

Supervisor David Campos said, “It doesn’t seem they’re really serious about getting a project completed. Unless they become serious, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Well, one thing that could happen is CPMC finally gets so fed up with San Francisco’s intransigence that it decides to build its hospital in another city. There are many cities in the Bay Area that are still suffering from the recession and would welcome a $1.9 billion medical facility with open arms.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and that city officials stop playing chicken with their constituents’ health and lives.

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