PeaceHealth plans to close emergency, other services at University District hospital in Eugene

The Catholic hospital group based in Vancouver, Washington said it will consolidate hospital services at its Springfield hospital  

By: - August 22, 2023 4:13 pm
PeaceHealth is moving services from its hospital in Eugene to Springfield.

PeaceHealth is moving services from its hospital in Eugene to Springfield. (Courtesy of PeaceHealth)

In the latest potential shakeup of Oregon hospitals, PeaceHealth announced plans to close its emergency department and end other services at its University District hospital in Eugene.

The Catholic hospital group, based in Vancouver, Washington, said Tuesday it intends to move emergency care, inpatient rehabilitation and other services from the Eugene hospital to its RiverBend facility in Springfield, about 6 miles away.

A news release cited financial reasons for the closure, calling the Eugene hospital “underutilized.”

“The University District facility consistently generates losses averaging $2 million per month,” PeaceHealth said in a statement.

The hospital, which does not offer a full array of services, such as surgeries and births, has seen a decline in patients, the hospital said, with about 95 visiting daily and about 15 patients admitted a month. 

The release said it will keep its medical clinics in Eugene and continue to provide mental health services – for now. 

“PeaceHealth intends to continue providing behavioral health services at University District until there is a sustainable alternative in the community,” the statement said.

It also said it will transfer its 27 rehabilitation beds to Springfield in 2024 but on a temporary basis until it opens a 50-bed rehab facility with LifePoint Health plan in 2026.

The announcement comes a week after Oregon Health & Science University announced plans to merge with Legacy Health. That proposal and PeaceHealth’s consolidation will need regulatory approval to move forward.

The Oregon Health Authority did not respond to a request for comment on the PeaceHealth announcement. But the Oregon Nurses Association blasted the decision in a statement.

“ONA is strongly opposed to PeaceHealth’s closure of University District hospital and calls upon management to reverse this dangerous and irresponsible decision immediately,” its statement said. “This short-sighted decision on the part of PeaceHealth management raises serious concerns not only for the more than 100 ONA-represented nurses who will be impacted by this closure, but also for the many hundreds of other staff at the hospital and the thousands of patients in Eugene who will lose access to emergency services.”

A PeaceHealth spokeswoman did not answer a question about layoffs, saying human resources “will work closely with each work unit to define appropriate transition plans for caregivers.”

The closure, if approved, would reduce health care options in Eugene, the state’s third largest city. The University District hospital has nearly 120 beds and employs nearly 1,100 people on the campus, with about 520 focused on hospital services. A merger between OHSU and Legacy also would affect medical options in the Portland area, which is now served by Legacy, OHSU, Providence and Kaiser. 

A wave of hospital consolidations has swept the country in recent years, with hospital groups suffering financial losses during the pandemic. Hospitals received infusions of federal cash but saw their operating margins squeezed last year, according to the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. The reason: Revenues grew but were outpaced by expenses.

PeaceHealth said in its release it’s committed to serving Lane County, noting it has spent $1 billion in the county over the past 15 years, including opening its RiverBend hospital in 2008. The University District facility originally opened in 1924 as Pacific Christian Hospital and was purchased in 1936 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, PeaceHealth’s founders.

A statement said the Springfield hospital “generates a positive cash flow,” keeping its other services in the county afloat.

“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,” said Alicia Beymer, chief administrative officer at the University District site. “We believe consolidating some services at RiverBend will provide an enhanced care experience.”

The nurses union, however, said the consolidation could be devastating for elderly people, with the closure of a specialized unit providing acute care in Eugene. It also lamented the potential impact on patients needing emergency care. PeaceHealth said its emergency department has 34,000 visits annually, or about 95 a day. It said only a small fraction – 6% – need to be admitted and that many of the rest are either patients in need of social services or have lower acuity needs.

Nevertheless, the union said some patients waited 18 hours on Monday to be seen.

“Closure of the University District hospital would have an enormous impact on RiverBend’s capacity to provide care to the more than 200,000 people in Eugene and the surrounding areas,” it said.


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.