Protests Push Back Med Center Proposal

Campus officials have pushed back multimillion-dollar plans to transfer services from UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest to La Jolla’s Thornton Hospital, bowing to pressure from county and community leaders who said the move would put undue pressure on the entirety of San Diego’s health care system.

In a unanimous vote last month, county supervisors backed a resolution that opposed UCSD’s proposal to move all of the acute-care beds in its Hillcrest trauma center to Thornton by 2030.

Supervisors said that the move, part of the university’s “”New Vision for Healthcare”” plan, would severely impact nearby hospitals that are also serving under- and uninsured patients.

“”By taking action today … it puts the community voice on record,”” said County Supervisor Greg Cox, who presented the resolution. “”[And it] insists on the effort to hold UCSD accountable to working with all of us to come up with a solution: One that maintains good access for families in disadvantaged areas of the county. And that does not put further stress on an extremely fragile system of hospital care.””

UCSD officials revised their position in response to protests from Cox, other county supervisors and several local hospitals and agencies.

“”When the focus was so on the long-term proposal, everything leading up to 2030 was really not a center of discussion,”” UCSD Health Science Communications Director Leslie J. Franz said.

The supervisors’ conclusions are starkly different from those drawn by a county-commissioned report released last fall. The study found that, if Hillcrest were to eliminate its acute-care facilities, local hospitals would be able to support the number of displaced patients – especially considering the campus’s proposed addition of 400 beds to Thornton.

“”While there may be some patients/family member[s] and hospitals impacted, overall the impact is not expected to be significant,”” the report stated.

However, the county-commissioned study also reported that over 57 percent of the 9,330 patients in Central and South San Diego are underinsured, a fact Cox and other supervisors said accentuates the need for medical care in lower-income areas such as Hillcrest.

“”A significant portion of the uninsured and underinsured live in the Central and South regions of this county and find it incredibly difficult to access services in our already burdened system,”” Cox said.

He added that the planned downsizing of beds at National City’s Paradise Valley Hospital will compound the pressure on the city’s health care “”safety net,”” a collection of hospitals, community clinics and trauma centers that serve the local poor.

Though the report said that repercussions of UCSD’s plan on transfer beds would be minimal, it also added that the move’s “”emotional impact”” could not be overlooked.

Franz said last fall that the university had wanted to upgrade Thornton Hospital services instead of the more pricey endeavor of replicating the same kind of services at the Hillcrest site.

The relocation plan, announced in 2005, sparked a disapproving uproar, including the medical center’s neighboring Scripps Mercy Hospital, which heightened after the release of the county-commissioned study.

Now, Franz said that the campus’s current plans for expanding its medical care will include even a new “”possibility”” of opening more inpatient services at Hillcrest.

That, along with the construction of a “”bed tower”” at Thornton, will allow UCSD to meet the need for services with the extra facilities, she said.

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