Everybody’s cryin’ Mercy

The proposed cardiac-care center will rip the heart out of a neighborhood

Pat Lynch is a Sacramento resident who’s at work on a novel.

Although it owns other suitable sites for construction, Mercy Hospital wants to expand its J Street location into a regional heart center. This means seven years of construction; an explosion of pollution, traffic congestion, and noise; the razing of vintage homes. It is a needless environmental and aesthetic assault on a long established residential neighborhood.

But hundreds of East Sacramentans have united to fight the Mercy corporation. I am one of them.

It is ironic that an institution that promotes itself as a health provider intends to contribute substantially to the deterioration of public health in my neighborhood. Mercy’s proposed expansion puts all of us at risk. The construction itself will corrupt the air and, if completed, the resulting traffic will increase atmospheric pollution and become a chronic hazard. You don’t need to be a Mercy pulmonologist to know that this project will create new respiratory ailments and exacerbate existing ones. Moreover, current research finds that particulate matter from auto exhaust is a serious and ever increasing heart danger.

My neighbor has emphysema; another neighbor’s two sons have asthma, as do I. Will the Mercy corporation take us in when we succumb to air befouled by its construction and traffic? And what about the man with heart disease whose house faces J Street? Will he have to stop taking his medically prescribed walks because the Mercy heart center imperils his heart health by contaminating the air? Or will he and many like him be considered collateral damage? Small wonder so many east Sacramento lawns bear yellow signs imploring Mercy to have mercy, pleading with the heart center to have a heart.

On September 13, the City Planning Commission met to hear proponents and opponents of the Mercy expansion, or if you will, to hear Goliath explain things to David.

Mercy is affiliated with Catholic Healthcare West, which has purchased 30 acres in Elk Grove, but Mercy didn’t reasonably explain why its regional heart center couldn’t be located there. One cardiologist, however, stated that he didn’t think his staff would be willing to relocate to another campus. Better, I guess, to muscle in on an old neighborhood, endanger its health and destroy its aesthetic character than drive 15 minutes to work.

Overall, the expansion advocates gave emotional testimony about the widely recognized superb heart care Mercy provides. But this was not the point. We’re all mindful of Mercy’s reputation. Someone dear to me was saved by its surgeons and I am grateful for their skill.

Nevertheless, I rationally oppose an expansion that will demolish homes, uproot 139 established trees (which provide pollutant protection), and make perpetual, toxic, traffic gridlock of an already overused J Street.

Mercy has elsewhere to expand. It owns the land. It’s absurd to argue that it has to destroy a neighborhood in order to save lives.

I don’t want this huge corporate footprint in my neighborhood. And I’m dead certain Mercy cardiologists wouldn’t want their children breathing in the particulate matter years of construction would bring to this community. I hope the planning commission and the city council will carefully scrutinize Environmental Impact Reports and listen to the voices of the opposition. The expansion is not progress, and it’s not smart growth. It’s a profit-driven intrusion.

Mercy has vast wealth; it is able to hire lawyers, publicists and lobbyists to advance its interests. It can mass mail glossy brochures prettifying its history.

We, on the other hand, are just neighbors. We don’t have a lot of money, a spin machine and an army of lobbyists. But we do have just cause: a cherished neighborhood that we will defend.

And we do have heart.