LHH Foundation Suspends Its Operations

On May 20, 2005, in response to a public records request seeking the IRS non-profit application that formed the LHH Foundation, Susan Cook Hoganson, Executive Director of the Foundation wrote:  “As of today, the operations of the Laguna Honda Foundation have been suspended.”  She referred further inquiries to obtain the IRS application to Louise Renne, Chairperson of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

It is unknown why the Foundation decided to suspend operations on May 20, just one day after City Controller Ed Harrington released a report about potentially scaling the cutting one-third of the beds in the 1,200-bed hospital back to only 780 beds.  The Harrington report may lead to yet more negative publicity about the Laguna Honda Hospital rebuild project.

The Foundation’s decision to suspend operations is troubling, because it means fundraising for furniture, fixture, and equipment for the replacement hospital has also been suspended.

In May 2004, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded a $162,000 grant to help launch the Laguna Honda Foundation.  There are unconfirmed reports that the Foundation may have potentially also received start up funds from the LHH Gift Fund, a fund administered by the LHH Volunteers, Inc. and which fund is dedicated, in part, to purchasing goods and services to benefit LHH’s residents.

Given preliminary funding, the Foundation received its non-profit status from the IRS and was formally launched in November 2004. Seven months later, it suddenly suspended operations.

In an April letter to potential donors, Ms. Renne and Ms. Hoganson claimed that the “admission policy issues surrounding the [LHH] patient population, which were related to the transfer of patients from San Francisco General Hospital, have now been resolved.” Nothing could be further from the truth, because the admissions policy dispute at LHH has not been resolved; factually, it is incorrect to say the admissions policy has been resolved, because many portions of the recently changed policy remain in dispute, despite Mayor Newsom's order to reverse the admissions policy.  The still unresolved admission policy is one that back in June 2004 Ms. Renne had defended was Katz’s authority to have made.

Renne requested a joint meeting in late April with Sister Miriam Walsh, Director of Pastoral Care at LHH; Virginia Leishman, RN, former Director of Nursing at LHH for 44 years; and Charlie Myers, a former member of the California Assembly.  In the joint meeting, Renne sought help from the trio to stop negative publicity about LHH.  Sister Miriam reportedly told Renne that there wouldn’t be any negative publicity if negative things were not going on at LHH, and that the public has the right to know about them.  Renne subsequently met again in May with Ms. Leishman and Sister Miriam, again appealing for help.

In early May, Ms. Renne also requested to meet with Mayor Newsom; she reportedly sought his help in stopping “negative publicity” about LHH, so the Foundation could resume its fundraising.  Apparently, despite her April 1 letter to potential donors, the Foundation’s fundraising program may have been having trouble raising donations.

It appears that Ms. Renne may not understand that the negative publicity about LHH has been a direct result of a unilateral decision made by Mitch Katz, Director of Public Health, who changed LHH’s admission policy in March 2004.  The policy change prioritized behaviorally disturbed San Francisco General Hospital patients for short-term admissions to LHH ahead of frail elderly San Franciscans at home in the community, and ahead of patients at other Bay Area hospitals who needed long-term skilled nursing care. Ms. Renne defended that policy decision in a June 3, 2004 San Francisco Chronicle guest opinion piece, in which Renne wrote:

“Regardless of the residential population mix receiving services at Laguna Honda — a policy decision in the hands of the city’s director of public health — the driving purpose governing the Laguna Honda Foundation is to raise private-sector funds to ensure that as the new facilities are completed, they will be ready to meet the immediate needs of residents and other users.”

“Regardlessss” may have been a poor choice of words for Ms. Renne, as the admississon policy change may have directly contribued to the Foundation suspending its operations.

However, the policy decision resulted in a doubling of behavioral incidents at LHH, a doubling of substance abuse problems, and a doubling of other adverse measures, all of which directly contributed to multiple citations against LHH from Cal OSHA (for safety-related issues for LHH staff) and from California’s Department of Health Services’ Licensing and Certification Branch (for safety-related problems and substandard care of LHH’s residents.)   A “Class B citation” from State L&C against LHH remains pending.

SF Weekly columnist Matt Smith wrote an article about Ms. Renne on December 22, 2004 entitled “The High Life.”  Smith notes:

“… scandal-plagued Secretary of State Kevin Shelley improperly diverted $220,000 in federal voting act funds to Renne’s firm, which includes as a principal Jon Holtzman, the treasurer of Shelley’s political campaign …”

Smith’s article could not have pleased Ms. Renne, and it is unclear whether Smith’s news coverage was part of the negative publicity Renne wanted stopped.

The Moore Foundation grant was awarded to:

“… help fund the development of the Laguna Honda Foundation, which will work within the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.  The money will allow the foundation to plan and launch a campaign to secure financing for the creation of the Laguna Honda Research Institute.”

The Board of Directors of the LHH foundation included Louise Renne, Chair, and members Wilkes Bashford, Lawrence J. Funk (immediate past Executive Director of LHH), John A. “Jack” Knight, Justice Harry Low, Derek Parker, and Anthony Wagner (former Executive Director of LHH).  It is not known how or when the Board voted to suspend operations of the Foundation.

If Ms. Renne were only able to convince the Mayor and Dr. Katz that the negative publicity about Laguna Honda is a direct result of politically-driven policies Katz implemented to help the Mayor solve the homelessness problem in San Francisco by implementing Care Not Cash — and that both men should accept responsibility that their own actions caused the negative publicity — perhaps then the Foundation could resume its operations and its fundraising.

After all, the negative publicity about LHH was a direct result of the admissions policy dispute could have been avoided had the policy never been changed.  And that’s what ultimately shut down Renne’s beloved Foundation and caused all of the problems at our beloved Laguna Honda Hospital.



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