The City’s hospitals are seeing fewer 'charity-care' patients 

The number of patients using charity care services at San Francisco’s largest hospitals is decreasing, according to a newly released report.

From 2005 to 2006 — the latest data available — charity care services, or free services offered to low-income individuals, dropped by 2 percent in San Francisco, from 106,081 cases in 2005 to 103,990 in 2006, according to a new report provided to the San Francisco Health Commission.

The percentage decrease is largely accounted for in fewer charity cases at San Francisco General Hospital and the UC San Francisco Medical Center, said Alicia Neumann, a Senior Health Planner with the Department of Public Health.

Neumann said the drop could be attributed to more investment in signing up eligible residents for health care programs. "We’re seeing improvement in our ability to get people qualified for different types of coverage" so they no longer come in for free service, Neumann said.

At San Francisco General, cases dropped from 85,015 in 2005 to 81,447 in 2006, according to the report.

But for other hospitals, such as St. Francis Memorial Hospital or St. Luke’s, there was a noticeable increase in free health care provided to patients between the two years.

St. Luke’s, which had been slated for closure by its owner, Sutter Health-affiliated California Pacific Medical Center, witnessed a 28.8-percent increase in charity services from 2005 to 2006.

At St. Francis, 1,639 cases occurred in 2005 compared to 2,662 in 2006, a 62.4-percent increase, according to the report.

The hospital, located on Bush Street at Hyde with the only emergency department located downtown, sees most of its charity cases come through the emergency room: people from the streets of the Tenderloin to tourists from a nearby hotel, said Abbie Yant, a senior director at the hospital.

"We have the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor," Yant said, calling increases in charity cases a "failure of the health care system" as a whole.

The report recommends several methods to provide better charity care, including working with Healthy San Francisco, The City’s sliding scale health care program for uninsured residents.

The Health Commission will hear the report at its Tuesday meeting.

dsmith@examiner.com

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