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City leaders join fight to keep Laguna Honda doors open

City leaders, staff and former patients rallied in front of Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center Wednesday to support the facility’s fight to keep doors open.

The hospital, which has been caring for The City’s patients for more than 150 years, is fighting to stay open after it was announced last month that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be terminating payments, eliminating a majority of the hospital’s budget, officials said.

The hospital must meet federal guidelines for CMS recertification in order to start receiving funds again. At the same time, CMS requires a plan to relocate patients if the hospital is forced to close. Laguna Honda, which is also a skilled nursing facility, takes care of approximately 700 patients that some call home.

The Department of Public Health released a closure plan Monday that includes four months of continued federal payments. Notifications have been sent out to patients and their families.

At Wednesday’s rally, Mayor London Breed said The City is taking every necessary step to ensure the hospital remains open.

The mayor said:

“​​I want you all to understand how hard we are fighting, how hard we are fighting to make sure that we meet the request of CMS, that we read every single request big or small. We are taking this very seriously because we know what’s at stake.”

Jerold Chinn/SFBay Former patient Michael Stoutmire speaks at a rally in support of keeping Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center open in San Francisco Calif. on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (Jerold Chinn/SFBay)

Michael Phillips, chief executive officer for the hospital, said the recertification process is “grueling” and “comprehensive,” adding that the hospital has to do much more than just fix deficiencies identified earlier by regulators. He said CMS is treating the hospital as if “it’s a new facility,” adding: 

That’s essentially how they’re viewing this, as we were opening up for the first time.”

Supervisor Myrna Megla, who represents District 7 where the hospital is located, said:

“We are all committed and laser focused on dotting every I crossing every T.”

Theresa Ruterrod, a certified nursing assistant at Laguna Honda and vice president of SEIU Local 1021, said it makes no sense to close a hospital during a pandemic.

Ruterrod said:

“When you close the hospital, you also remove access. You also push us back. We must stand up for this. It’s a justice issue.”

Former patient Michael Stoutmire said the hospital was his lifeline in 2018 when he faced a number of serious health issues. Stoutmire, who required chemotherapy and substance abuse treatment, said the facility and staff helped put him back on track, adding:  

“Laguna Honda was the road that was needed to pull me to a safe point in my life.”

The hospital has been under close regulator watch since two non-fatal overdoses were reported in July. The incidents prompted a six-month review that began in October and ended on April 14.

During the review period, regulators inspected the hospital in January, March and April. They discovered additional problems related to prohibited items in the hospital, hygiene, documentation and a patient smoking in a communal bathroom, Phillips said last month.

He said the hospital’s closure would have a “traumatic” impact on the entire city, adding:

“We have to do everything we can do to ensure that that does not happen.”

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