NATIONAL NEWS

PeaceHealth to shutter only hospital in Eugene, Oregon; nurse’s union calls it ‘disastrous’

Aug 23, 2023, 6:31 PM

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — PeaceHealth announced this week it is closing the only hospital in Eugene, Oregon, and moving services 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) to its Springfield location.

PeaceHealth said Tuesday the hospital serving the city of about 178,000 people is underutilized, the Register-Guard reported.

The PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene, which first opened in 1936, employs hundreds of nurses, health care professionals and staff.

PeaceHealth officials said patient volume has been declining, causing the hospital to lose an average of $2 million per month. The facility has about 95 patient visits daily, with about 15.5 patients per month admitted as inpatients and 7.5 patients per month admitted for observation, according to hospital officials.

“As the needs of the Lane County community evolve, PeaceHealth services and sites of care also need to evolve to ensure compassionate, high-quality care now and in the future,” Alicia Beymer, chief administrative officer of the University District hospital, said. “We believe consolidating some services at RiverBend will provide an enhanced care experience.”

PeaceHealth plans to move inpatient rehabilitation, emergency department and related medical services to the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield.

Emergency services will phase out of the Eugene hospital in November. Inpatient rehab will temporarily relocate in early 2024, with plans to open a larger rehab facility in 2026.

At the Eugene location, ambulatory services, including PeaceHealth Medical Group clinics and Home & Community services, will remain open. The Eugene location will also continue providing behavioral health services at University District “until there is a sustainable alternative in the community.”

In addition to PeaceHealth in Springfield, three other hospitals serve patients in Lane County.

PeaceHealth said it is “committed to retaining its valued caregivers as it evolves its care services in Lane County, finding equivalent positions within PeaceHealth’s Oregon network.”

Scott Palmer, chief of staff for the Oregon Nurses Association, called the decision a “disaster.”

“It’s a horribly short-sighted decision on the part of PeaceHealth, and they should reverse that decision immediately,” Palmer said, adding that the nurses association and University District staff were blindsided by the email sent Tuesday about the impending closure.

The nurses union just settled a long-negotiated four-year contract with the hospital, which was ratified by the union last week.

“At no point during those negotiations were we or any of the nurses given even the slightest hint that a closure of university district hospital was on the table,” Palmer said. “This is a huge, huge disastrous decision that is going to impact not only the hundreds and hundreds of staff at the hospital, but the tens of thousands of people in Eugene.”

“We’re concerned that this is going to have immediate, dramatic and dangerous impacts on the health of the people of this region,” he said.

Palmer said the Oregon Nurses Association is working with other local union groups and organizations to keep the hospital open.

Alan Dubinsky, communications director of the Service Employees International Union Local 49, said the union is still assessing the potential impact on its members at the Eugene hospital.

Dubinsky said SEIU Local 49 represents about 1,800 healthcare workers and staff among three PeaceHealth hospitals in the Northwest: University District, Riverbend and St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington.

During the Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Lane County commissioner Laurie Trieger said she disagreed with the closure.

“The closure will have far-reaching negative impacts,” she said. “It is alarming to think that the third largest city in this state will have no emergency room. This closure will decrease access and degrade health care in our community, and we should all be very concerned.”

Trieger also said she was concerned about how the closure could affect how long it could take to get emergency care, especially during peak traffic times.

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