UCSF wants to buy St. Mary's, St. Francis hospitals; longtime doctors fear fallout

Two San Francisco hospitals are up for sale and taken over by UCSF Health, but some doctors worry the culture, ease and access of community-based care could be lost.

UCSF Health is in talks to acquire St. Mary’s Medical Center, St. Francis Memorial Hospital and several San Francisco outpatient and urgent care clinics.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the news.

The UC Board of Regents will meet July 18-20 and consider the request for UCSF Health to move forward and negotiate with Dignity Health, a Catholic hospital chain that currently owns the facilities.

"The proposed acquisition would build on our shared history of caring for our community – including San Francisco’s most vulnerable – and enhance critical health care services in our city," UCSF said in a statement Thursday.

UCSF Health CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said in a memo to staff Wednesday that the system is experiencing record demand for services and space constraints that limit the ability of care in the community. He said the sale could add capacity and enhance services.

Gunasekaran also said UCSF Health planned to preserve and expand community-based resources including behavioral health, women’s health and surgical services.

For 166 years, St. Mary’s has stood as San Francisco’s oldest hospital serving the west side, and some doctors fear the culture of immediate, accessible and affordable healthcare could disappear under UCSF.

"I don’t think you get the personal care you can get in a community hospital," said Dr. Remo Morelli, St. Mary’s Medical Center Chief of Staff. "We would like to have a seat at the table to help structure what St. Mary’s is going to look like in the future. We’re not opposed to the sale."

Morelli and a handful of other doctors launched "Save St. Mary’s" on Wednesday to send a message that there’s no guarantee San Franciscans will continue to receive compassionate care, regardless of their ability to pay.

They’re advocating for the homeless and uninsured, an inpatient psychiatric program for children and young adults in crisis, and a women’s center that serves as a hub for comprehensive screening and health services.

"This is 100% about the patients," said. Dr. Terrie Mendelson, St. Mary’s Medical Education Director. "We are a community hospital – for the community, by the community, in the community and don’t want to be a small piece of a very large enterprise in which all the pieces of the enterprise are exactly the same."

The doctors said Dignity Health has financially mismanaged the hospital and cut both programs and services in recent years.

The hospital chain acknowledged it entered into discussions with UCSF Health to transfer ownership and said the process will take many months.

"This decision was not made lightly," Dignity Health California Division President Julie Sprengel said in a statement. "We are encouraged about the opportunity for our care sites to join a health system so closely aligned with our values."

But "Save St. Mary’s" doctors worry the longtime, independent doctors could be forced to become UCSF employees or join a foundation, preventing them from operating as they would like.

"Independent doctors are the ones who give their cell phones to their patients so their patients can have a very streamlined approach to getting their care," Morelli said. "We don’t want the compassionate care or giving care that we represent be lost."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at  brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU