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Amid possible sale of hospital, St. Mary’s doctors urge UCSF to save critical services

St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco was founded in 1857. | Source: San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Doctors at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco have launched a campaign to preserve its unique services amid reports the facility and another of the city's hospitals, St. Francis Memorial Hospital in Nob Hill, may be acquired by UCSF.

A group of the hospital's most senior physicians said in a statement this week their "Save St. Mary's" campaign is to ensure that the medical center maintains its accessible and patient-centered care and most cherished programs and services.

St. Mary's, on Stanyan Street near Fulton, is San Francisco's oldest continuously operating hospital. Established in 1857, it was the first Catholic hospital west of the Rockies.

Dr. Remo Morelli, St. Mary's medical staff president and cardiac catheterization laboratory director, alleged a "decade of mismanagement" by the administrations of CommonSpirit Health and Dignity Health has led to the potential sale.

"While we are pleased to embark on a new chapter with a local, well-respected institution like UCSF, we remain steadfast in our belief that St. Mary's rich history and compassionate care culture must be enshrined as part of any new facility," Morelli said.

He noted that “the core missions of each institution couldn’t be any more different—fundamentally, UCSF is a research and teaching facility, and St. Mary’s is a community hospital, specializing in patient-centered, affordable, compassionate care.”

Among the services the physicians are especially concerned about are the Sister Mary Philippa Clinic, which provides care to the homeless and uninsured, and the St. Mary’s McAuley Institute, which provides acute inpatient psychiatric care for youth and young adults. 

"San Francisco cannot afford to lose this historic and cherished institution and its critical care programs and services. We must save St. Mary's," said Dr. Kenneth Mills, a St. Mary's internal medicine specialist for over 45 years.

According to UCSF Health, it is still seeking approval from the UC Board of Regents to move forward with the proposed acquisition of Dignity Health's clinical presence in San Francisco, which includes St. Mary's and St. Francis.

UCSF Health president and CEO Suresh Gunasekaran acknowledged St. Mary's importance of its services to the San Francisco community.

"We plan to retain and strengthen those services. In addition, the acquisition will allow us to increase our investment in the health of San Francisco at a time when major cities—including our own—face economic and infrastructure challenges," he said. "As we transition the ownership of these facilities, we will continue to honor our shared commitment to improve the health of vulnerable populations, regardless of their ability to pay."

According to Dignity Health, UCSF Health is well-positioned to cater to the San Francisco community with St. Mary's services, and it is "the right partner to continue our legacy of caring for the underserved."

"This decision was not made lightly," Dignity Health California Division President Julie Sprengel said in a statement, which was posted on Dignity Health's website.

"While we are at the very beginning of this process and discussions with UCSF Health will continue for several months, we are committed to keeping our employees, physicians and the community informed. Most importantly, throughout the process, our patients will continue to receive the same high-quality care they have come to expect," she said.