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At rally to keep PeaceHealth’s University District hospital open, Mayor Vinis calls on Gov. Kotek to intervene

Woman at podium with microphone, crowd behind her.
Brian Bull
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis speaks to a crowd of roughly 75 people across from the PeaceHealth University District Medical Center on Sept. 11, 2023.

Eugene’s mayor is calling on Oregon’s governor and the state health agency to keep her city’s sole hospital in operation.

At a rally Monday outside the PeaceHealth University District Medical Center, Lucy Vinis joined others condemning PeaceHealth’s plans to close the facility.

Vinis said “lives will be lost” if they don’t have a partner at the table to discuss safer and more sustainable alternatives.

“Since PeaceHealth won’t do that on their own, I call on Governor Kotek and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), to force them to meet their obligations to provide healthcare to this community, and deny this closure,” she said to cheers and applause.

View of hospital.
Brian Bull
The PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center - University District in Eugene. Administrators announced in late August that they plan to close it.

Vinis told KLCC that she was in touch with the governor last week.

PeaceHealth administrators announced last month that they planned to close the hospital at 13th and Hilyard Avenue, citing annual losses of up to $24 million.

Among the other officials present at Monday's rally was Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger. She acknowledged concerns over a closure while the region remains at risk of a Cascadian event.

“But I’m concerned about what will happen in the regular course of events, immediately on the heels of losing a local emergency room. We don’t need to wait for an earthquake to know that that will be a disaster.”

Another speaker was Chelsea Swift, of the mobile crisis response service, CAHOOTS. She’s concerned about people who’ve used PeaceHealths’ behavioral services, and says Lane County’s new facility is a ways off yet.

Woman holding microphone at podium, with crowd behind her.
Brian Bull
Chelsea Swift, a medic and crisis counselor with CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) speaking at today's event calling for the PeaceHealth hospital at 13th and Hilyard to stay open.

“We look forward to the stabilization center,” Swift told KLCC. “But that building has not broken ground yet, it does not exist yet. And what is very real and does exist, are the 60-plus CAHOOTS calls that our units respond to a day.”

In a statement shared with media after the event, PeaceHealth officials said they remain committed to Lane County both now and in the long-term.

“We plan to continue investing in new and expanded services at our RiverBend campus in Springfield, which was built to serve the entire region, and at our hospitals in Cottage Grove and Florence and numerous clinics,” the statement reads.

Additionally, PeaceHealth said it plans to continue working with the OHA regarding the University District hospital to continue serving patients at the inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at University District.

“The planned Lane County Stabilization Center is not a replacement for inpatient Behavioral Health, it is a complement,” said PeaceHealth officials. “We also intend to temporarily relocate the inpatient rehabilitation unit to RiverBend until the opening of the PeaceHealth/LifePoint Health 50-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility on the RiverBend campus.”

Mayor Vinis also confirmed that the planned closure of the University District facility would be discussed at Monday's Eugene City Council meeting, where the city manager would summarize its impacts.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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