Community, Health & Wellness

Area hospital to close; impacts of other facilities anticipated 

PeaceHealth announced on Aug. 22 that it began the process of closing PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District (University District) on Hilyard St and E 13th Ave in Eugene because it is “underutilized” – which will not just affect Eugene residents, but Springfield and South Lane County as well.

PeaceHealth’s University District fact sheet elaborates on the hospital’s low utilization, although it should be noted that some of the math is incorrect:

• There are 19 patients daily

• There are 26 patients daily for the behavioral health unit

• The emergency department sees 34,000 patients annually, which is about 93 per day

According to the press release, University District’s need and usage diminished when PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend (RiverBend) opened in 2008.

In contrast to 2023’s 93 daily patients, according to PeaceHealth officials, University District had 171 patients per day before 2008, and the press release stated that patient volume has declined so drastically that the facility is losing $2 million per month.

“PeaceHealth is facing the same financial challenges as most health systems, with costs rising faster than earnings,” PeaceHealth officials wrote. “PeaceHealth has been and continues to be dedicated to Lane County. As we look to enhance and streamline services, any changes to how we deliver care in no way signal an eroding commitment to the people of Lane County.”

Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch said she thinks South Lane is generally underestimated – especially in this case when considering how many people who live in South Lane utilize University District.

“PeaceHealth’s decision to close Eugene’s only hospital and emergency room is dangerous to our community and rural areas that rely on that site,” Buch wrote via email to Brian Shipley, PeaceHealth’s system vice president. “This may be a fiscal decision for PeaceHealth but it is a moral and health catastrophe for our community.”

This is not the first time, even just this calendar year, that PeaceHealth has faced backlash for prioritizing the business-side of healthcare.

On April 19, PeaceHealth executives announced they would be closing dozens of hospital beds at both University District and RiverBend – and an entire medical unit at RiverBend was shut down.

According to The Chronicle’s reporting, nurse Kevyn Paul said, “This decision puts profits ahead of the people.”

Buch also told Shipley that not having University District creates an inherent, increased risk to the public for those who live south of the river, which is where a majority of Eugene residents live.

“What happens in a disaster and the river access is cut such as a predicted catastrophic Cascadia earthquake event?” Buch asked Shipley.

As someone who lives outside Eugene city limits, even Buch mentioned that University District would be her closest emergency room. She added that some South Lane residents told her they opt for University District also.

“It doesn’t just affect people in Eugene,” Buch said. “It affects people all over South Lane.”

PeaceHealth officials stated that rural communities were taken into account when making this decision, but their statement does not address any concerns South Lane residents actually have. It states that PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center in Cottage Grove and PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center in Florence will remain open – and that patients in rural communities experiencing life-threatening medical emergencies will continue to be transported by emergency vehicles to RiverBend after University District’s closure.

Buch said the Eugene-Springfield Fire Department was not consulted – even though they transported about 4,400 people to the University District hospital in 2022. But PeaceHealth officials said they met with Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) leaders, and they will continue to meet with them during this process.

Buch said, “I’m not seeing capacity availability at RiverBend that will meet Eugene’s needs,” and PeaceHealth officials begged to differ, saying that RiverBend’s opening in 2008 “significantly increased capacity and access.”

Further, Alicia Beymer, the chief administrative officer of University District, said, “consolidating some services at RiverBend will provide an enhanced care experience.” Yet Buch is concerned that the closure of the University District hospital will:

• Create longer ambulance call, response, and transport times

• Result in longer patient offload time and lower overall ambulance reliability

• Impact Crisis Assistane Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) and their drop-off needs

• CAHOOTS uses City of Eugene vehicles and White Bird Clinic staff to act as a mobile crisis intervention program, which is funded through the Eugene Police Department.

PeaceHealth’s plan outlined in its press release does still require regulatory approval from Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

The plan is threefold:

• “Emergency department: PeaceHealth intends to phase out Emergency Department services on the University District campus in November. …

• Inpatient rehabilitation: PeaceHealth intends to temporarily relocate the 27-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit at University District to RiverBend in early 2024. …

• Inpatient behavioral health: PeaceHealth intends to continue serving patients at the current behavioral health location at University District until there is a sustainable alternative in the community. …”

“We are committed to serving the people of Lane County and plan to increase our care and services over the coming years,” Beymer said. “By discontinuing services at University District, which have unsustainable negative operating margins, we can more effectively invest our resources to better meet the Lane County community’s current and emerging needs and ensure patients have access to the right care, in the right setting, at the right time.” 

As PeaceHealth’s plan still awaits OHA’s rubber stamp, there is still time for Lane County residents to raise their voices.

“OHA is the one that has to and is the regulating body to determine whether they can or cannot close,” Buch said. “I hope people reach out and let them know their concerns.”



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