Sonoma Valley Hospital to unveil new wing

At times, the road to bring Sonoma Valley Hospital into compliance with state seismic laws seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

Neighbor fought neighbor, bond measure after bond measure was floated and literally thousands of staff and volunteer hours were spent searching for a solution that would meet the hospital’s needs and appease the taxpayers who support the district hospital. Now, 15 years after the process started in earnest, the hospital is set to unveil a new wing that will not only meet the stringent requirements of the Office of Statewide Health Planning Development, it will boost revenues and put the hospital on more stable ground for the future.

“You couldn’t predict how it would go with all these twists and turns,” said Sonoma Valley Health Care District Chair Bill Boerum, who has seen the hospital through much of the process, beginning as a volunteer before joining the board in 2007.

In many ways, the saga demonstrates the power of the public process to find a solution that satisfies the largest number of stakeholders. While numerous expert reports concluded there would be no way to build on the hospital’s current footprint because much of the facility was constructed before rigorous earthquake codes were commonplace, a small group of hospital staff and community volunteers were committed to finding a way to build in place.

“That went against all conventional and prevailing wisdom at the time,” Boreum said. He credits previous hospital Chief Executive Officer Carl Gerlach along with stalwart volunteer Norman Gilroy, for committing to the process even when architects said it wasn’t feasible.

“(Gerlach) realized people only wanted to spend so much money,” Boerum said. “He felt like there was an option on the hospital’s current footprint.”

In 2006, the hospital sought a $148 million bond – known as Measure C – which would have funded a brand new facility on Leveroni Road, utilizing eminent domain to secure the farmland. It was emphatically rejected by the community, so plans were put in place to find a more cost-effective answer. A wide variety of ideas were considered, from a private medical spa to a floating emergency room, but ultimately the most simple solution came down to adding a new wing that meets state seismic standards. It will house the most critical hospital services, with an expanded emergency department on the first floor and a new surgical center upstairs. It was funded with a voter-approved $35 million general obligation bond and an $11 million capital campaign, the latter of which is nearing completion this month.

“We’re within $250,000 of our goal,” said Kelly Mather, chief executive officer of the hospital. “We will not have any debts from the new wing when we open, we’ll be paid off.”

The new wing should help the hospital to boost revenue by bringing in a higher volume of lucrative surgical procedures. For several years, Mather has worked to bring a wider range of physicians to practice in Sonoma, which now include an ear, nose and throat expert, a spine specialist and a urologist. Previously, many of those specialists took their cases to other hospitals with better facilities.

“Now we have the best toys,” Mather joked, “We hope to bring them here with our state-of-the-art facility.”

Patients will also find an improved experience, with more space and privacy in the emergency room. “Our goal is to get patients into a room in 10 minutes in the ER,” Mather said.

The community can check out the new digs during a daylong celebration on Saturday, Nov. 16, which will include live music, activities for children, barbecue and tours of the new wing. Events get going at 10 a.m. when refreshments will be served in the garden, and visitors can tour the new wing. From noon to 12:30 p.m., a barbecue lunch will be served outside while BackTrax plays an array of classic rock songs. Kids can jump in the bounce house or have their face painted. At 2:30 p.m., there will be a brief introduction from hospital administrators and speeches by local politicians, including Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin and Mayor Ken Brown. Cookies and sweets will be served in the afternoon, and the event wraps up at 4 p.m.

Hospital officials said they hope to see a big turnout from the community, because without the support of voters, the new wing would never have been possible.

“It’s really going to be a wonderful event that everyone in the community contributed too, and everyone should be proud of,” Boreum said.