By DON McINTOSH
Over the objection of unions and Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, the Vancouver-headquartered PeaceHealth hospital chain is moving ahead with plans to close most units at its University District hospital in Eugene as of Dec. 1. Sacred Heart Medical Center University District, located at 1255 Hilyard St., first opened in 1924. It’s the only hospital in Eugene, a city of 175,000.
According to a mandatory layoff notice filed Oct. 19 with the state, the hospital employs 463, and Peacehealth expects to have jobs elsewhere for 325 of them, including at its Sacred Heart Riverbend hospital across the river in Springfield. That leaves 129 who would be displaced, the notice said. The closure affects members of Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, and SEIU Local 49. ONA spokesperson Kevin Mealy said the majority of the roughly 100 RNs are being offered comparable positions at Riverbend.
But the closure will leave two Springfield hospitals — PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Riverbend and much smaller for-profit McKenzie-Willamette — as the only option for Eugene residents. Riverbend is more than five miles away, and depending on traffic, that could add up to 30 minutes round-trip to ambulance calls.
PeaceHealth, a non-profit Catholic-led chain comprising 10 hospitals, has said it’s losing $2 million a month at Sacred Heart University District. And PeaceHealth as a whole reported a $240.7 million operating loss for the fiscal year ending June 30.
Currently Sacred Heart University District provides general medical care, 24-hour emergency services, in-patient rehabilitation, and in-patient behavioral health care (mental health and addiction). After appeals from Governor Kotek, unions, and city and county officials, PeaceHealth agreed to keep the behavioral health unit open. Closure of the behavioral health unit would have left the lower Willamette Valley without any acute psychiatric unit. PeaceHealth also agreed to replace the University District emergency department with an urgent care clinic, but that clinic would operate fewer hours and may lack basic diagnostics such as X-ray machines.
PeaceHealth has said it’s losing money because Sacred Heart University District is underutilized, with only 95 patient visits a day, but Mealy says as recently as 2021, the hospital was reporting that its emergency unit was “highly utilized.” Mealy says PeaceHealth has been purposefully shifting patients to Riverbend, short-staffing University District, and operating the Eugene hospital at much less than full capacity.
Mealy said the short timeline of the University District closure— just four months between announcement and layoffs — gave the community no time to respond or come up with ways to keep it open.
“It’s plainly a profit driven decision,” Measly said. “PeaceHealth executives don’t know or care about the Eugene community. If they did they would have kept the hospital open, or at least looks for partnerships to preserve the care.”