Musings: If not us, then who will support Sonoma Valley Hospital?

If Measure F on the November ballot is approved by two-thirds of us, it will mark nearly 100 years since Sonomans, from Sears Point, Schellville, Sonoma, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs to the northern edge of Glen Ellen, have voted in favor of keeping a community hospital open and operating so that we do not have to drive out of town for the acute care it provides.

In the beginning, we had little choice. A raging, wind-driven fire in September of 1923 destroyed virtually all of Boyes Hot Springs, including Crane Sanitarium, a private hospital that was our only health facility at the time. The owners decided not to rebuild.

Our few local doctors, supported by Valley business leaders, persuaded George and Jo Burns to put beds for maternity cases in an outbuilding at their farm on Burndale Road in Vineburg.

Jo Burns, known locally as “Aunty Jo,” had been a nurse at Crane. By 1924, her barn was adequate for few beds. It became Sonoma Valley’s first public hospital, supported by donations from the community. Parts if that old building are still standing today.

Ever since then, we Sonomans have insisted that our Valley must have its own hospital. The idea of driving to Napa or Santa Rosa for treatment was simply not acceptable then, nor is it today.

Sustaining a hospital of any kind in our small town was never easy. Our first little Vineburg barn facility operated on a shoestring budget. But it was open and available to local doctors for their patients who needed hospital care and for expectant moms. I was born there.

By the time World War II ended, it was clear to local doctors that the Burndale farm was no longer adequate. They, along with community leaders and a large majority of local residents, approved the founding of a community hospital district (the first of its kind in the state). It was governed by a locally elected board with authority to levy taxes to support it.

It could not have happened without Valley residents agreeing to tax themselves to keep the hospital in here. The site chosen in 1945 was a two-story building near Buena Vista Winery owned by Frank Bartholomew. My brother, Jim, was born there.

It was a major step up from Aunty Jo’s barn, but, it was located at the end of a narrow country road at the eastern edge of the Valley. In less than a decade, advances in modern medical care and the obvious location problems forced the community to consider necessary improvements.

The board of trustees, a citizens committee, and local doctors worked together to plan a brand new hospital on Andrieux Street, where it is today. But once again, the final decision was up to all Sonomans. We voted yes, and in 1952 our community hospital moved to its present location.

Virtually every step since then has been to make sure our community is served by the most up-to-date, modern, healthcare facility possible. None of those advancements would have been possible without us, the citizens of Sonoma Valley, accepting the fact that if we want a hospital here to serve us, if we want an emergency room here to save lives (and by law we cannot have an emergency room without a hospital) then we must be all-in. The hospital is ours to sustain and maintain. As long as we do that it will be here for us.

Even as community hospitals in other small towns have been forced to close, we have kept ours open, providing high-quality care. Without it, we would have lost most of our doctors. They must have a hospital in which to practice.

But, sustaining a modern hospital with a relatively small, rural population, takes more than revenue from fees for service, patient care, surgeries, insurance reimbursement, etc. That’s why it was necessary to vote to continue to tax ourselves to help cover the cost of operating it. That parcel tax was last approved by a two-thirds majority of Sonoma Valley voters in 2017.

It’s up for renewal in November. It’s still just $250 per parcel per year and this time they’re asking that we renew it for 10 years (during which there will be no increase).

For nearly a century, we, the citizens of Sonoma Valley have chosen to keep our hospital here and under our control. In November we have the chance to continue that legacy by voting yes on Measure F. It needs to pass by a two-thirds majority, so please join me in voting yes on Measure F.

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