Sutter Did Not Cave to City in Scaling Back Cathedral Hill Project

by Randy Shaw, 2012-11-28

Six days after I wrote on November 19 that Sutter was scaling back its proposed Cathedral Hill hospital in response to a changed health care environment, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross “broke” the story that a “scaled-down” hospital was now on the table. Chris Rauber of the SF Business Times then wrote that city pressure forced the hospital giant to reduce the project’s size, and that it “looks a lot like (CPMC CEO ) Browner, CPMC and Sutter blinked first.” But city officials have never demanded a smaller new hospital, and Sutter and CPMC did not “blink first.”

The SF Business Times has routinely wrongly accused Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors of overly aggressive negotiating on Sutter’s proposed Cathedral Hill project. Now they are taking this meritless stance a step further, claiming that Sutter has had to reduce the size of its new hospital due to city pressure.

Such a claim is untrue, and to my knowledge has never even been publicly advanced by Sutter.

Changes in Health Care

What happened at Cathedral Hill reflects the many layoff announcements we have heard in recent months from not only Sutter but Kaiser and UCSF. The health care industry is changing in response to the 2014 onset of Obamacare, which means different staffing patterns than in the past.

The new CPMC at Cathedral Hill was conceived in a different environment. And it’s likely that even if the project had swept through the Board of Supervisors last spring, Sutter would still be reducing the project’s size in response to this new terrain.

This is why Sutter was in no rush to get the project passed earlier, and why it used the excuse of the twenty-year commitment at St. Luke’s to justify delaying the deal.

Sutter needed time to create a hospital that better meets the post-2014 health care world----and which also does not trigger a costly new environmental impact report. Those critical of the city’s role in ensuring the best possible project should recognize that the scrutiny did Sutter a favor.

Unions and St. Luke’s

Rauber seems disappointed that Sutter is moving toward expanding St. Luke’s Hospital while reducing the new Cathedral Hill project, as this is the approach promoted by the California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Union of Health Workers (NUHW). But Sutter’s apparent willingness to expand St. Luke’s is good news for all who care about the city’s health needs, and it also resolves a potential obstacle to city approval.

The bottom line is that Sutter appears to be moving toward two hospital projects that better serve its needs and those of San Francisco. While outstanding issues remain, the project is moving in the right direction.