Westside Observer
February 2010 at

Laguna Honda Hospital Won't Discuss Delay
Laguna Honda Hospital Delays Its Move-in Date ...
      and Its Executive Administrator Refuses to Answer Questions
by Patrick Monette-Shaw

Reasonable people think that news released in late December indicating Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) has again delayed the opening of its replacement facilities by somewhere between three and six months would be shared openly with the public, since it appears the delayed move-in may be a result of possibly failing one or more required State inspections.

Other reports that have surfaced since late December speculate that the State inspections may have involved:

  1. Fire alarms, or fire alarm systems, in LHH’s new buildings being unreliable.
  2. Furniture may have been moved into the new buildings before the State completed required fire alarm / sprinkler inspections.
  3. Pipes in the new, or existing, facility may have burst, causing damage.
  4. Failure to pass a “substantial completion” inspection and certification thought to be scheduled in December 2009.
  5. Failure to pass a review of LHH’s policies and procedures in another December inspection.
  6. Reports from exterminator’s that big rats are getting into the building because door jams aren’t tightly sealed and the hungry critters may have damaged electrical wiring or other things.

But Laguna Honda Hospital’s Executive Administrator, Mivic Hirose, appears to be following the playbook from the famous saying, “While Rome burned, Nero fiddled,” since she refuses to answer questions raised by members of the public.

For over nine months, the president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council has attempted to ask a series of questions on behalf of his members about LHH’s replacement digs and the hospital’s plans for the future, but has run up against the proverbial brick wall of silence offered up by Hirose.

When, without forewarning, LHH announced on December 22, 2009 that it had suddenly postponed its move-in date to its new facilities from April 2010 until “June or July,” it apparently notified LHH’s staff, and potentially residents of the hospital.  The December 22 announcement may explain why LHH had also suddenly canceled a meeting five days earlier of a joint subcommittee of the Health Commission and Laguna Honda’s executive staff scheduled for December 17.

But it was almost as if the Grinch had stolen Christmas, since LHH doesn’t appear to have notified the media, taxpayers, or policy and oversight agencies, that it had suddenly short-sheeted the long-scheduled move date into its new buildings.

Reports quickly surfaced that the move-in date may be, more realistically, September or October, adding significant expense to the rebuild project, and potential fines against the bond financing.

Facing potential fines or penalties, you’d think LHH would want to communicate the delayed move-in date to taxpayers.  You’d be wrong.

Facing (at last report), that each month of delay on the construction project would cost an additional $1.5 million monthly, you’d think a potential five- to six-month delay that may cost $7.5 million to $9 million in additional expenses would be something LHH would want to communicate to taxpayers footing the bill.  You’d be wrong.

Facing a $522 million deficit next fiscal year, the City doesn’t need surprising new expenses, so you’d think that the increased cost of operating both LHH’s current facilities and its new facilities — long feared by City officials as a dual-expense — would prompt LHH to communicate with the community.  You’d be wrong.

Facing a delayed move-in date, you’d think LHH (given its handsomely-paid three-member Communications Department) would update its web site and its separate Replacement Project web site with information regarding the postponed grand opening.  You’d be wrong, since as of January 18, a month after announcing to its staff the postponed move date, neither web site has been updated announcing the delay.  (Indeed, the LHH web site’s “New Construction” feature “What’s New – Project Updates” links you to a one-page project status report dated January 2009 — a year-old document! Has nothing significant happened with construction during an entire year?)

And there’s more that LHH hasn’t communicated to you.

In a January 5 letter to Mivic Hirose, the president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, George Wooding, raised a number of questions about the postponed move-in date, asking detailed questions about what may have caused the delay.  He requested that LHH re-establish communications with the local community, specifically asked Hirose to respond to each question raised in his letter, and asked for a date on which LHH intends to hold a community forum.

Hirose’s response was characteristically pathetic, completely evading answering any questions raised by Wooding and artfully dodging answering whether LHH will hold a Town Hall meeting with the community any time soon.  Of note, her response failed to confirm or deny the six potential reasons that the LHH Replacement Program may have failed State inspections of its repacement facilities.

But her reply needs to be placed in perspective.  Hirose’s evasiveness has been ongoing since her appointment as the interim, and then actual, Executive Administrator of Laguna Honda Hospital following John Kanaley’s death last March.

On April 16, 2009 Wooding had e-mailed a list of questions to Hirose regarding plans for the new hospital and whether there were any plans to integrate patients at SFGH’s Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility as patients at LHH — in effect turning LHH into a mixed-use facility serving both elderly and disabled patients with patients having primarily mental health diagnoses in a single facility.  After no response from Hirose, he e-mailed her again asking pretty much the same questions, but she again never responded.  So on June 25 he sent an e-mail to Hirose requesting a meeting.  After several delays, Wooding and two associates were able to obtain an appointment with Hirose on August 14, four months after he contacted her in April.

From his standpoint, the August meeting in Hirose’s office was a failure since no opportunity to ask LHH about policy questions was permitted, and no policy questions answered.  Hirose eventually agreed that LHH wanted to be good neighbors.  At the end of the meeting, she agreed to introduce herself to the community at a West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting.

Provided a five-minute slot on the October WOTPCC meeting agenda, Hirose introduced herself, but according to reports from attendees didn’t discuss any LHH policy questions other than to state that “LHH cares about helping its residents and is proud of its newly built hospital.”  By reports, Hirose went over her allotted time by spending approximately eight minutes discussing her background, and spent another seven minutes showing pictures of the artwork proposed for the new campus and discussing the “success stories” of two or three of LHH’s residents.  She apologized for having only brought only one copy of LHH’s annual report for 2009, failing to mention that it is readily available on LHH’s web site.

At the time of the October meeting — seven months following John Kanaley’s untimely death — LHH had not answered one policy question that had been asked.

Three months later, Hirose claimed in her January 5 response about the postponed opening of LHH’s new facilities that she had attended the October WOTPCC meeting, so she doesn’t “understand why” anyone would say she has not communicated with neighbors.

How can a woman of her education and experience as a City employee not understand that now 10 months following Kanaley’s death, still not one policy question about LHH has been answered for the community?  How can someone of her purported stature pretend that her October presentation can be construed as effective community outreach by LHH?

The last community forum LHH sponsored was in September 2008; since then it has failed to do any community outreach, despite having a staff of three people in its Communications Department paid $380,000 annually (including fringe benefits), and despite the November 2008 Wide Angle Communications consultant report that recommended increasing community outreach.

If one of LHH’s public relations goals is to hide information from the surrounding community and the broader public, it has done a great job.

Will it take placing public records requests with California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) to uncover whether LHH’s delayed move-in date is the result of failing one, or more, required building inspections?  And once that material becomes available publicly, will LHH then start communicating to all San Franciscans the status of its $584 million replacement buildings that are way over budget and approximately four-and-a-half-years way behind schedule?

Or will District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd — with his seats on the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, and the Board’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee, the latter of which has authority to hold hearings on issues involving public works, infrastructure, public health, seniors, and the disabled, among others — perform his ministerial duties to schedule and hold a hearing on Laguna Honda’s newest delay?

What is it going to take for City officials to provide accountability about the Laguna Honda bond measure to San Franciscans in a truly transparent and timely manner?



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