Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH), at the foot of Clarendon Avenue, is in a sense part of our neighborhood. The Woods, a community of townhomes, lies just across from it, as does Galewood Court. Thanks to the addition of some unlovely tower blocks, and the felling of a lot of trees (eucalyptus – of course), it’s a lot more visible than it used to be. Especially at night, when it bears some resemblance to a large parking garage.
So we’re concerned at what’s happening at LHH. George Wooding, President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, wrote an article pointing out problematic changes that the public has not been informed about.
For those interested in more detail, there’s a website called Stop LHH Downsize with a great deal of information (including the full text of Mr Wooding’s article, “Many Problems Face Laguna Honda Hospital“).
Here’s the gist of the story:
In 1999, the San Francisco voters agreed to a bond measure to rebuild Laguna Honda Hospital – a city-owned nursing home, they thought, for indigent elderly and disabled San Franciscans.
What has happened since?
- The rebuild has cost $600 mn instead of the budgeted $401 mn.
- Tree felling has chopped large holes in the screen between Clarendon Avenue and the hospital’s rear, giving the neighborhood a fine view of the backside of the new blocks and the parking lot.
- LHH has cut 35% of the beds (420 of 1200), eliminated another 200 planned assisted living units, and suspended or terminated its adult daycare program for older people with dementia.
- More problematically, LHH has changed its mission – or is trying to.
The Department of Public Health is planning to admit people with mental health and substance abuse problems. Instead of having a nursing home in our neighborhood – a mission most of us support – we will have effectively, a mental-health hospital.
It’s an experiment that has already been tried, unsuccessfully. In 2003, in order to reduce pressure on San Francisco General Hospital, young patients with substance abuse and mental health issues were sent on to LHH. Staff were attacked, fires set, and there were clashes between the young male patients and the older residents. Eventually, the situation deteriorated sufficiently that the Department of Justice was involved, and the experiment stopped.
It’s about to be restarted. (We think, since there has been no clarity on the issue.)
Says Wooding in his article: “We don’t know what population LHH intends to serve when it opens just four months from now, and whether LHH will be serving geriatric patients with chronic medical illness, or psychosocial patients with mental illness and substance abuse needs.”
The underlying problem is that San Francisco has no place to send mentally ill/ substance abusing patients who cannot be released into the community. (In 2004, San Francisco’s only long-term care psychiatric facility closed down, with a loss of 145 psychiatric beds.)
That doesn’t mean that LHH should be sacrificed to that function. Especially without buy-in from voters and the surrounding communities.
[Edited to Add: At the March 11, 2010 community meeting, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd announced that the new facility would open in June (though the patients would not move in until later). In response to a question, he said that LHH was not changing its admission policy: It would be open only to people whose primary diagnosis was physical, though some of those might have mental challenges as well. “Don’t worry, it’s not becoming a homeless shelter,” he said.]