Sonoma Valley Hospital to build new diagnostic center

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Sonoma Valley Hospital will begin construction next month on a new diagnostic center, hospital officials announced on Tuesday.

The first phase in building its $21 million diagnostic center will include a new CT (computed tomography) scanner, a larger waiting room for patients and the beginnings of refurbishing existing space that housed the old emergency department. The plan is to have the project done by summer of 2020 when the next phase of construction kicks in that includes a new 3T MRI, upgraded cardiology department and other improvements that are expected to be complete by spring 2021.

“We have raised $18 million toward the goal of $21 million for the project,” said Joshua Rymer, chair of the Sonoma Valley Health Care District board of directors in a statement. “Once we raise the final $3 million, we will move forward with the MRI project,”

Hospital CEO Kelly Mather said that when she joined SVH 10 years ago the first priority was updating the emergency room and, she said, they knew at the time they would need to start looking at upgrading other departments and equipment to stay current with technology.

“To have it finally happening is really good,” she said. The diagnostic center is a “sound investment,” she said.

Most medical equipment has a shelf life of about eight years, said Mather, because technology, medical advancements and knowledge keep improving.

The diagnostic center will receive a new 3T MRI, CT scan and X-ray equipment, which will provide doctors and radiologists with greater imaging capabilities, and increased revenue for the hospital, Mather said.

“Many of our emergency patients need a CT scan, and that’s why this was a priority project,” she said.

Regulations and licensing require hospitals with emergency rooms to have a CT unit available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There are a number of MRI scans that cannot currently be conducted at Sonoma Valley Hospital (SVH) because of the old equipment. The current MRI, which is located in a trailer outside the hospital’s main entrance, will be sold.

Through the hospital’s affiliation with the University of California at San Francisco, scans are presently performed at UCSF but, with the updates, tests will soon be conducted at Sonoma Valley Hospital. That also means that UCSF physicians can send any North Bay-located patients to SVH for the scans.

Mather said they expect to increase revenue in the diagnostic center’s first year by about $1.5 million with the new equipment, which will help support the financially-strained hospital, which in 2018 had an operating loss of more than $3.3 million. After several program cuts, in 2019 SVH says it has reached close-to or break-even net income. Based on increased usage of the facility an additional $2.2 million is expected in the second year and SVH officials expect a third-year revenue increase of about $2.8 million.

SVH realized a cost savings of about $200,000 by bringing all the scanning needs under one roof. Up to about two years ago, SVH conducted mammograms and bone density tests at leased office space about two blocks from the hospital, Mather said.

The walls of the current space were built in 1972, before MRI and CT scans were developed, Mather said. Other equipment and improvements that are part of the 20,000-square-foot diagnostic center plan include a new and advanced 3T MRI, better flow and layout to the space where the old emergency department was located and adjacent space. Upgrades to the hospital’s cardiology and laboratory services are part of the overall project.

“We’re bringing this all into the 21st century,” she said, creating a design that works around how new technology and equipment function.

SVH has already purchased and is using 3D digital mammography technology and portable X-ray imaging.

The hospital unveiled a new emergency room in early 2014. The funds to pay for the emergency room came largely through bonds approved by voters in 2008 accounting for about 70 percent of the cost. The funds for the new diagnostic center – $18.3 million of an estimated total of $21 million – were raised through a capital campaign of private donations and foundations, and now the Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation is reaching out to the extended community to come up with the remaining $3 million.

Mather said they are sending out about 10,000 letters countywide to the community asking for donations to raise the money. The facility remodel is expected to cost between $15 million and $19 million, the 128-slice CT scanner costs $1.6 million, the 3-Tesla MRI is $2.8 million and the portable x-ray machine is $200,000.

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