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PeaceHealth to close University District hospital in Eugene

The Vancouver, Washington-based health systems says it is consolidating services
PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene, Ore. | COURTESY OF PEACEHEALTH
August 22, 2023

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

PeaceHealth announced Tuesday that it will begin a phased closure of its University District hospital in Eugene that will leave Oregon’s third-largest city without an emergency department. 

The move represents the latest in a series of hospital facility closures and consolidations as hospitals have faced what they’ve called a worsening financial picture. According to the announcement by the Vancouver, Washington-based health system, the University District hospital is underutilized and leaders want to consolidate services with its RiverBend hospital in nearby Springfield.

“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 at the University District, said in a statement. 

The University District hospital has seen its use drop, according to the statement. On average, just 95 patients visit the facility each day and 15.5 are admitted as inpatients each month. The hospital also loses $2 million a month. However, the RiverBend hospital, located 6 miles away, “has increased capacity and access,” according to the statement. 

However, the move has rankled the health system’s unionized work force. 

Claire Syrett, labor relations representative at Oregon Nurses Association in Eugene, told The Lund Report that the nurses union had just settled a four-year contract with PeaceHealth for its nurses at both RiverBend and University District hospitals. 

“They didn't give us any clue this was happening,” she said.

The Oregon Nurses Association, the state’s largest nurses union that represents more than 100 nurses at the two hospitals, issued a statement calling on PeaceHealth to reverse what it called a “dangerous and irresponsible decision.”

“At this time, it is unclear how PeaceHealth intends for the residents of Eugene to access crucial, life-saving services like those provided by the University District Emergency Department,” reads the statement. “This is particularly concerning given that wait times at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center Riverbend, the closest alternative hospital to University District, were over 18 hours for some patients just yesterday.”

The nurses union statement also raised concerns about PeaceHealth’s plans to close its acute care for the elderly unit at University District. The Oregon Nurses Association is working with other unions that represent hospital employees including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. 

“ONA and our union colleagues are in contact with the Oregon Health Authority to determine if there are regulatory ways to stop this closure from happening,” reads the nurses union statement. “We will also be launching ways for the Eugene community to make their concerns known to PeaceHealth administration within the coming days.”

The statement from PeaceHealth laid out its timeline for transferring services to the RiverBend hospital, which it notes that regulators must sign off on the plan. By November, PeaceHealth intends to close the University District hospital’s emergency department and direct patients and resources to RiverBend. 

PeaceHealth plans to relocate the 27-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit at the University District to RiverBend in early 2024. The relocation will be temporary while PeaceHealth and LifePoint Health finish building a new 67,000-square-foot facility that will include a 12-bed traumatic brain injury unit. 

The timeline for the health system’s plans for inpatient behavioral health is less firm. Until another option becomes available, PeaceHealth will serve patients at its University District behavioral health unit, which provides inpatient services for 1,100 patients each year, according  to the statement. 

 “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,” Beymer said in the statement. 

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.