Woodlake residents protest psychiatric hospital proposal

Residents of a Sacramento neighborhood are planning a protest tonight at City Hall to voice their opposition to a plan to construct a psychiatric hospital near their homes.

Signature Healthcare Services is proposing to build a 120-bed facility on Expo Parkway, across Highway 160 from the Woodlake neighborhood of north Sacramento.

The 70,860-square-foot hospital would replace a vacant lot. It would include a 24-hour intake facility and outpatient care space, according to a city staff report.

City planning officials are recommending that the City Council approve the project at tonight’s council meeting.

While the facility site stands near other medical facilities and was once approved for a larger office development several years ago, the proposal has created a stir among Woodlake residents.

Tom Powell, leader of a neighborhood group that has been vocal in challenging the project, said residents of the quiet and leafy residential enclave have compiled more than two dozen concerns with the plan.

The group has organized multiple neighborhood meetings – some drawing 100 residents – and has placed signs expressing opposition to the plan on front lawns around Woodlake.

Among the chief concerns raised by the neighborhood are worries that the hospital will have an impact on public safety in the area. The closest light rail station to the hospital is on the northern edge of Woodlake, meaning those using the train to access the facility would need to walk through the neighborhood.

A report written by city of Sacramento planners said staffers do “not believe that patients will make regular use of light rail to get to the facility, or upon discharge.”

Gregory Bitter, a principal planner with the city, said Signature Healthcare has offered to provide 24-hour security on the hospital site and pay for off-site security patrols twice a day.

Bitter said the company is also offering to pay for a city permit that will allow a private security firm under contract to patrol the Woodlake neighborhood and to enter into Woodlake Park. Armed private security personnel are not allowed into city parks without that permit.

“There is absolutely no evidence to suggest there will be a public safety issue,” said attorney Gregory Thatch, who is representing Signature Healthcare in its application. “This is a locked facility and people do not leave without permission. When they do have permission to leave, it’s because they are not threatening.”

Councilman Allen Warren, who represents Woodlake, said residents have “raised some legitimate concerns” about the hospital’s impact on neighborhood safety, but that Signature Healthcare has addressed those concerns. Warren said he expects the facility application to be approved by the council.

Powell said residents also have concerns about legal issues surrounding Signature Healthcare. Most notably, the company is accused in a pending federal lawsuit of accepting Medicare and Medicaid “for comprehensive, high-quality care” at a Pasadena facility, but providing “minimal, substandard care.”

“We shouldn’t be doing business with this outfit,” Powell said. “We don’t think the City Council should be giving a rubber stamp here.”

Thatch defended the company’s record.

“They own eight hospitals and it’s not unusual to find some level of litigation (filed against companies) in the health care industry,” he said. “There is no indication that they have anything but a very positive performance record.”