As usual, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, had his finger on the pulse of San Francisco at yesterday's inquiry into the CPMC hospital chain. "I've been to a lot of these hearings, and lies, lies, lies is what we usually hear from CPMC. Sutter is trying to create a hospital monopoly, where they get to write a Bible that we can't interpret." Mr. Ammiano summarized the feelings of the 150+ San Franciscans who crowded the North Light Court at City Hall for a Community/Workers Rights Board to investigate the impact of Sutter/CPMC's corporate policies on San Francisco.
The hearing, convened by Jobs With Justice‑San Francisco, the Good Neighbor Coalition, and the Coalition for Health Planning‑SF, was inspired by fears cutting across several communities about CPMC's effect on equitable access to healthcare, displacement of housing in the central city, and access to permanent union jobs at all skill levels for San Francisco.
The Jobs With Justice program tied together for the first time the diverse array of policy areas, neighborhoods, and constituencies that could suffer from CPMC's controversial 5‑campus, $2 billion rebuild agenda. The range and intensity of communities, organizations, and concerns presented at the event may well sandbag CPMC's attempts to win city approval without major compromise and concessions from CPMC.
Ammiano was joined in hearing the testimony by Rev. Deborah Lee, School Board member Sandra Lee Fewer, City College Board member John Rizzo, community leader Jane Morrison, and health policy expert Laura Thomas.
Much of the testimony criticized CPMC's efforts to create a hospital monopoly and raise healthcare costs by concentrating services for insured patients in a new Cathedral Hill skyscraper, which would be out of reach for lower‑income patients and patients coming from the southern side of the city. According to Lorenzo Listana of the Tenderloin Filipino‑American Community Association, "It isn't clear at the moment whether CPMC will accept low‑income families. We want to make sure that Medi‑cal and Medicare patients can avail all CPMC facilities."
Rachel Ebora of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and Coalition for Health Planning ‑ San Francisco voiced concerns from the southern side of the City about the proposal to cut St Luke's Hospital to 1/3 of current capacity: "Though the community succeeded in keeping St. Luke's open, the specter of that closure still hangs in the air, as CPMC's business plans expose a hospital that seems set for failure ‑ with a reduction in services and Skilled Nursing Facilities we know are badly needed by our community. As a non‑profit hospital, CPMC's development plans should be about equity and quality health outcomes for all people."
Assemblymember Ammiano, called for a re‑vitalization of St. Luke's Hospital as a vital part of the safety net. Ammiano said, "My late lover got great care at St. Luke's. I honor that history and it's being debased. If you've gone to St. Luke's lately you see that the physical plant is not what it should be. They're saying that you are worthless, you are expendable."
Key testimony also revolved around CPMC's famously‑poor relations with workers. Ron Villanueva, a former nurse manager testified of being passed over for promotions and being instructed not to hire any more Filipinos. Similarly, residents near Cathedral Hill worried that they will be both displaced from housing and locked out of jobs. Community Housing Partners representative Cliff Lee explained, "The Tenderloin is a diverse place with Asian, Latino, Black, white and immigrant residents. There are many people ready for jobs, good people with families and kids to look after. Sutter/CPMC is in a perfect position to help us do something about this problem. We want a percentage of the permanent jobs. Without a binding agreement we fear our communities will be left out in the cold. We don't need charity, we need jobs and opportunities."
Eileen Prendiville, thirty‑tree year RN, testified of CPMC's ideological war against its own employees, saying, "It has been 3 and 1/2 years without a union contract. We are just asking for the same standards that nurses at other bay area hospitals have agreed to. Without union protection there is a very real fear of retaliation by the employer, and it is much harder to be a patient advocate without union protection. CPMC threatens to arrest our labor representatives when they come to meet with us. We will not allow CPMC to break our union."
HIV and health policy expert Laura Thomas reminded the audience that she "heard a lot of concerns and fear but I also heard determination and a commitment to keep fighting. CPMC is going to hear these voices. One of the lessons that we learned loud and clear from the HIV epidemic is that you must involve the community and the individuals who are most affected in the decision‑making, and that is what clearly is needed here. I would be honored to be part of that fight with you."
The Community/Workers' Rights Board expects to produce a public report to help policy‑makers and the community more fully understand CPMC and its plans in San Francisco after the New Year.