Laguna Honda Hospital

Longtime Laguna Honda Hospital Residents Hang on Under Cloud of Relocation

By Judy Goddess

When 45-year-old Felipe Martinez suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to stand, walk, swallow or handle any of the activities of daily living, the one thing he was certain of was that Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center wasn’t for him.

“That’s for the elderly, that’s not me,” he thought at the time.

Now in his early 60s and after 17 years of intensive physical therapy as a resident patient there, he’s regained some of those skills and his feelings about the hospital have changed. “I don’t know what I will do if they close Laguna Honda down.” 

Felipe Martinez, sitting in front of a display of patient art at Laguna Honda Hospital, has been living there the past 17 years. He’s one of many resident patients hoping the hospital is able to correct problems that may still force its closure. (Photo by Judy Goddess)

His worry is well-founded. Last Spring, under pressure from federal regulators, Laguna Honda was forced to begin transferring patients to other facilities. At the time, the only available skilled nursing home beds were in Modesto or Watsonville, far from Martinez’s family. “I’m scared. My family lives in San Francisco; they couldn’t visit me. I’d be very lonely.”

(After pleas from the city, the transfers were halted until February at the earliest.)

Meanwhile, Martinez is doing the best he can while the cloud of relocation hangs over him and the other residents.

An outgoing person, he enjoys visiting with friends he’s made on the various units, although he misses some of the activities he enjoyed before the pandemic. The COVID-19 emergency forced the staff to close hospital-wide activities like field trips, bingo games, use of the physical therapy pool and weekly Mass. Some of those activities have been moved to the patient units, but it’s not the same, patients say.

Martinez’s painting of Marylin Monroe. (Photo by Judy Goddess)

The popular art classes offered by Art with Elders, an outside nonprofit agency, have returned. Two works by Martinez – one of his hometown in Mexico and a more fanciful one of a tree full of wild goats – will be on display at the AWE exhibit on the first-floor galleries at City Hall from Feb. 2 through Aug. 25. His earlier portrait of Marilyn Monroe still hangs in the hospital.

In the interim, Martinez found other activities to occupy his time. A native Spanish speaker, he takes online English classes from City College of San Francisco and online computer classes from the San Francisco Community Living Campaign. When the weather is good, he visits the animals at the Laguna Honda farm, an oasis behind the main building that includes a flower and vegetable garden, a greenhouse, and a corral replete with a few goats, pigs, and chickens.  

There’s a whole world for patients to explore at Laguna Honda, including a farm behind the main building, with flower and vegetable gardens and a corral with goats, pigs and chickens.

During his years at the hospital, he’s become proficient in arranging paratransit rides and taking Muni to Stonestown, where he joins his family for meals. But he is still dependent on others for daily care and doesn’t believe he could live on his own. And he worries what the future may hold. Will he be transferred outside the city to some less well-equipped and staffed facility where he is unknown and distant from his family?

Biggest of its kind

Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center has been a fixture in San Francisco since its founding in 1866 as an almshouse for the city’s old and frail elderly. In 2010, after voters approved a bond measure to rebuild the aging hospital, a new, adjacent, 782-bed facility was constructed, making Laguna Honda the largest skilled nursing facility in California and one of the largest in the country.

The buildings on the left were constructed in 1926 and later converted to administrative use. The current hospital and rehabilitation center, right and below, opened in 2010. (Photos by Colin Campbell)
Hendrickson’s avatar.

This story by Judy Goddess was originally published by San Francisco Senior Beat and was republished here with the permission of the author.

1 reply »

  1. Thank you for a lovely article. I hope for all the patients’ sake that Laguna can solve their problems. Mr. Martinez is a strong person and a good artist. Best wishes to him.


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