$5 million pledged to fortify battered Mt. Zion finances

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An emergency pledge of $5 million recently announced by UCSF/Mount Zion Medical Center's endowment fund to bail out the debt-ridden hospital comes on the eve of today's critical vote on the future of the institution.

Born in and raised by the Jewish community and currently under the control of UCSF-Stanford Health Care, Mount Zion now faces its own emergency-room drama amid major cutbacks.

According to UCSF-Stanford, Mount Zion accounts for $56 million of the projected $60 million deficit for the entire four-hospital system. To save money, Mount Zion may be forced to eliminate nearly all of its hospital beds and close its emergency room.

At today's meeting, the UCSF-Stanford board is expected to take action on the future of the hospital.

Ann Lazarus, chief executive officer of the Mount Zion Health Fund that put up the $5 million pledge, said she hopes the offer will buy the hospital some time to develop a cost-cutting plan.

"We hope [UCSF-Stanford] will make some commitment to keep it open for a short while, during which strategic planning can take place…Part of the problem is the hospital suffers from a lack of direction," Lazarus said.

Although Mount Zion retains little of its past Jewish character, its closure would affect hundreds of Russian Jewish emigres who receive medical care there. Lazarus and the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco have received several worried phone calls from the Jewish community.

"There have been many Jewish community voices adding to the concern that a hasty decision that could have irreversible effects not be made," said Gia Daniller, the JCRC's director of legislative affairs.

"We hope [UCSF-Stanford] pursues a course of action that will enable them to preserve Mount Zion and maintain its traditions and values."

Lazarus wants the hospital to remain fully operational until at least 18 months after the opening of its National Cancer Institute, which begins service in mid-2000.

That window will allow the hospital to better track its budget, Lazarus said.

She added that the UCSF-Stanford board has not taken a definitive stand on shutting down the hospital. "I got a letter from the chairman of the board [of UCSF-Stanford] acknowledging our pledge," Lazarus said. "He said they would keep it in mind as they reach their decision. Clearly they are not making any promises one way or the other."

One option for saving Mount Zion would be to turn to private donors, including Jewish community philanthropists. But Lazarus said it's too early to know if that approach will be necessary.

"People are continuing to develop data," Lazarus said. "If the hospital is given a chance, there might be some major participation of private funding. But that's just speculation."