SF nurses, patients’ families protest pending closure of hospital unit
SAN FRANCISCO – Nurses and patients’ family members staged a rally recently at the steps of San Francisco City Hall to protest medical care facility Sutter Health’s pending closure of a sub-acute care and skilled nursing unit at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC)-St. Luke’s Campus and the ongoing eviction of patients.
San Franciscans for Healthcare, Housing, Jobs & Justice (SF-H2J2), a coalition of over 50 organizations, family members, health care providers belonging to California Nurses Association (CNA) protested the announced closure set for the end of October.
The unit is the only one in San Francisco where patients are among the most helpless and vulnerable, dependent on ventilators and require tracheotomy care and feeding tubes.
While CPMC made the announcement of the closure last June, it has not explained why it is trying to evict and move current and why it no longer intends to accept skilled nursing and sub-acute patients in the future, after completion of the new St. Luke’s hospital.
Chanting “Sutter you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” “Sutter says cut back, we say fight back,” and “Sutter says evict today, we say no way,” speakers took turns condemning the closure and eviction plan that would require poor family members to travel to faraway San Jose to visit their sick loved ones.
After the rally in City Hall, protesters proceeded to the Health Commission that heard Prop Q hearing to argue that Sutter’s proposal to close the unit is detrimental to patients.
St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval, a Filipina and a California Nurses Association Board member, presented the speakers at the rally on City Hall steps.
“This closure hits the most vulnerable patients in San Francisco and there is no plan for them when the unit closes so we are opposed to that. This is inhumane. Where will these people go? Once again we are bringing attention to marginalizing the already marginalized. What are we going to do? These are human lives,” Sandoval asked.
“We were blindsided by a memorandum that went out in June saying they’re closing the hospital after the opening of the new hospital next year. So they just kind of speeded up the process. Unilaterally, they just said that they are closing.”
Sandoval added that these patients were residents who all lived in the hospital and had no other place nearby to go. The coalition hopes to delay the closure if not totally stop it.
“The hospital says was there has been collaboration with the families of the patients, but we are discovering that the families were also blindsided by this decision” Sandoval said.
Raquel Rivera, a sister of a sub-acute patient, spoke on her sister’s behalf because her sister was unable to do so.
“We are a close family and it is important to have her close by so we can visit her. Taking her away from us will have a detrimental effect on our family and the quality of life we are so used to. If my sister is placed in a freestanding facility and there is an emergency, it may be too late,” intimated Rivera.
“My sister has been living at St. Luke’s for about seven years. She loves the nurses and listens to them. She has a roommate who is her friend and the doctors are her second family. And CPMC is taking that away from her. If this facility that she has grown to trust is taken away from her, she will fall into depression and she won’t eat. This is what is called patient’s trauma.”
Rivera also wondered aloud about what happened to CPMC patient care. “You need to have a dead heart to move these patients away from their families most of which don’t have money to travel, work two jobs to survive and then visit their loved ones in the facility. And now it is going to be even harder when their loved patients are transferred far away,” reminded Rivera.
Another Filipino, Eric Barreras, a registered nurse for 17 years in the sub-acute unit of first at St. Luke’s since January 2000 before CPMC took over in 2005, lamented that if patients are not helped on time and properly, they will die. Barreras also said that most of the 11 sub-acute unit-trained registered nurses are Filipinos.
“Someone really has to really care of them all the time to provide them all the care they need. When I learned about this, I felt bad as though our services were disregarded altogether. I feel for the patients. They need round-the-clock care. Where are they going to transfer them? We treated each other as a family that we even have a family Christmas party. One of my patients even called me brother,” Barreras shared.
Barreras worked at Philippine General Hospital in Manila for two years before immigrating to the US in 1995.
“Now that Sutter threatens to close this unit, evict our patients in San Francisco and break up our families, patients are crying every day begging us to find ways to keep them in the unit. There is no reason for Sutter to subject our patients to this level of stress and trauma.”
Kathy, a family member of one of Barreras’ patients, vouched for the sub-acute and skilled nursing care that he and his colleagues give to her sister.
“I am so upset because my sister has been for six years under excellent care, I call it five-star care, and I don’t understand why they don’t see the need to maintain that floor. I have had nurses tell me. ‘Katy it is an honor to take care of your sister’. Do you usually have nurses tell you that? But they really have concern of taking care of our patients,” Katy stressed.
Katy said she has become close to Barreras, whom she calls an outstanding nurse who knows his patients and treats them with compassion and concern.
“If only my sister (who cannot speak, eat and breathe by herself) could talk, she would tell you Barreras and all the other nurses really take good care of her, but all she can do now is to give a thumbs-up sign. I speak highly of Eric and all the other nurses there because they deserve it. And I want to keep them. It is a family. They are the reason she is still living today,” a grateful Katy uttered.