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SF’s Laguna Honda Hospital, regulators reach last-minute deal to suspend closure

A shuttle departs from Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco on May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco and federal agencies came to a last-minute agreement to extend the pause on patient transfers at Laguna Honda Hospital, meaning an additional reprieve for vulnerable patients and their families.  

The negotiations came down to the wire, with an agreement reached just before a deadline of May 19 to either extend the pause on patient transfers or close the hospital. The new agreement was announced Thursday and set a new deadline of Sept. 19.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also agreed to extend funding for the facility through March 19, 2024, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health. 

“We are incredibly grateful for your patience and collaboration as we continue the CMS recertification process. We know the uncertainty has been challenging,” wrote Laguna Honda Interim CEO Roland Pickens in a letter to patients and families. 

According to City Hall sources, a decision had been expected after 10 a.m. today, but negotiations apparently continued into the afternoon. 

In April 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified Laguna Honda, cut funding, and ordered its closure over a variety of deficiencies in care and administration. The closure order brought forced patient transfers, which have been blamed for some patient deaths

Video by Mike Kuba

Sometimes called “God’s Hotel,” the 157-year-old hospital currently serves around 600 elderly or seriously ill or injured patients. 

The city later sued, and negotiations in the wake of that lawsuit produced a settlement last October allowing a temporary hold on discharging patients. That pause on transfers has been periodically renewed. 

Suspense over repeated negotiation sessions has been a major pain point for patients, advocates, and families. 

However, so long as the hospital continues to meet federal requirements, recertification may be possible before the new Sept. 19 deadline, according to the letter from Pickens. 

“Once we have a successful next CMS monitoring survey, which we anticipate in May or June, we expect to be in a position to apply for recertification,” Pickens wrote.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who represents the district where Laguna Honda is located, rejoiced at the news. 

“My number one priority has always been to protect the residents of Laguna Honda Hospital and their families and loved ones who have been living with instability, fear, and anxiety not knowing what the future may hold,” Melgar wrote in an email. “We must continue supporting Laguna Honda in their efforts for recertification.” 

Dr. Teresa Palmer, a former doctor at Laguna Honda and patient advocate, also expressed relief but alluded to future challenges. 

“I am very relieved at this last-minute reprieve on closure and evictions from Laguna Honda Hospital.” Palmer wrote in an email. “[But] shortages of nursing home beds, disabled access housing, treatment, and wrap-around home support for fragile people in our community must be fixed.”