Gimme an ‘A’: General Hospital CEO Makes Her Pitch

Categories: Election 2008


“I’m afraid if the bond doesn’t pass, we may end up without a hospital here.”

By Joe Eskenazi

Not every CEO started out on bedpan detail. Gene Marie O’Connell did. San Francisco General Hospital’s Chief Executive officer started her tenure as an SFGH nurse – and if Proposition A fails tomorrow, she feels the prognosis for her hospital is negative indeed.

Normally a proposition that has the support of the mayor and all 11 supervisors is a dead cert to sail through the electoral process. But since bond measures require a two-thirds approval – and, you may have noticed, the economy is none too hot – the $887 million bond is no sure thing.

Last week, George Wooding, Prop A’s most vociferous critic, laid his cards on the table. In today’s post, O’Connell replies.

Borrowing a page from the Barack Obama playbook, Wooding attempted to tie SFGH’s plans to the costly debacle at Laguna Honda Hospital (that ongoing $299 million bond-financed reconstruction ended up costing more than double the original price and will provide only 65 percent of the promised beds). O’Connell concedes that Laguna Honda’s plan “wasn’t put together as well as it could have been” – an understatement that all but begs for comparisons to the mishandling of the invasion of Iraq. But she goes on to note that lessons have been learned. At Laguna Honda, the bond was passed before any real work had been done assessing the rebuild, and it was five years until shovels hit the ground. SFGH has already produced a plan, hired an architect, signed a builder, gone through an Environmental Impact Report and prepared to get construction started in 2009.

What’s more, Laguna Honda’s escalation factor – extra costs included in the budget anticipating inevitable increases in construction costs – was a paltry one-half-of one percent. SFGH is planning for 7 percent escalations. It also has written in contingencies totaling 7.5 percent of the construction contract, 9 percent of construction costs and 6.5 percent of labor costs.

As for Wooding’s contention that the hospital’s sleek, cylindrical design added a quarter of a billion dollars to a more conventional layout, O’Connell again cries foul. She claims the $887.4M figure was formed through the input of myriad committees and after estimates from builders and architects while the previous estimate of $622M was simply a ballpark figure. When asked if it was wise to even release such an estimate and set herself up for these sort of questions she answered “it was the information we had at the time.”

Finally, regarding the World War I-era, unreinforced masonry buildings a scant 40 feet from the proposed future SFGH wing, O’Connell said there was “never a question” asked about if those buildings could collapse upon the new structure in an earthquake. She added that there has never been a specific study or computer model employed to verify the contention that such a collapse is an impossibility. O’Connell did note, however, that every city and state board has signed off on the current building plan, including the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Finally, O’Connell noted that this rebuilding plan has long been in the works – and time is running out. If construction is not commenced by 2013, the state could shut down SFGH. She said that the hospital could apply for extensions, but would have to show tangible results from an enacted plan to do so.

“I’m afraid if the bond doesn’t pass, we may end up without a hospital here.”

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