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Jason Walsh: Sonoma Valley Hospital affiliation coming to light

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“Fiat lux” – Latin for “Let there be light,” the motto of UCSF

In 1870, the Toland Medical School in San Francisco began negotiations to affiliate with the Berkeley-headquartered University of California – and, while it wouldn’t take the name University of California San Francisco for another 100 years, the seeds of UCSF were sown.

Over the next few years, Toland Medical School added new affiliates – and by the turn of the 20th century its small handful of partners were known as the “affiliated colleges” and had set up shop on Parnassus Heights, where it is known today as UCSF Health. Now 18 Bay Area hospitals and three physician networks count themselves among UCSF Health’s partners. And, earlier this month, Sonoma Valley Hospital announced it was close to finalizing an agreement to become the latest institution to join those affiliated ranks.

In announcing the proposed partnership, SVH CEO Kelly Mather said the move would “take Sonoma Valley Hospital to the next level.”

Among the advantages for SVH, hospital officials cite access to UCSF Health’s expertise and resources; an enhancement to physician and administrative services, and coordinated transport to UCSF facilities for Sonoma patients requiring more intensive care.

As part of the agreement, UCSF would also provide Sonoma with the services of its medical director for five days a month, initially, following the recent retirement of SVH’s longtime medical director Robbie Cohen.

Mather noted that SVH has had an informal working relationship with UCSF Health for a number of years – an alliance strengthened in 2015 when SVH joined Canopy Health, a network of independent Bay Area hospitals and physicians started by UCSF Health and a small handful of other medical groups. In the North Bay alone, UCSF Health has an affiliation with Marin General and a partnership with Santa Rosa Memorial.

The affiliation looks promising from a number of standpoints – not least of which being Sonoma’s access to resources from a medical center consistently ranked among the tops in the nation. Additionally, the value of partnering with a brand like UCSF can’t be discounted – healthcare district residents’ confidence in the quality of their care should only be emboldened by such an affiliation.

Of course, there are financial incentives for the partnership, as well, which SVH officials expect will mostly be realized through revenue brought in from the enhanced services made possible through UCSF Health.

However, those hoping the UCSF affiliation will lead to a financial windfall for the district should probably couch their expectations, concede SVH officials.

According to hospital spokesperson Bob Kenney, any new revenue will mostly act as a counter weight to revenue that may otherwise be lost in the coming years as competition in the region increases. They don’t expect the affiliation to have a significant effect on operating costs, at least for the foreseeable future.

Importantly, adds Kenney, “SVH remains independent both operationally and financially.”

Hospital officials also stress that the terms of the agreement haven’t been finalized.

“Once both boards approve it,” said Kenney, “there will be a joint team of SVH and UCSF people who will work out the structure of the relationship.”

Certainly residents within the Sonoma Valley Healthcare District will be interested to learn the precise details of the affiliation once the ink dries. But at the moment, this appears to be a positive direction for the district. It’s hard to imagine that the availability of UCSF resources in addition to one’s own community hospital wouldn’t be reassuring to residents in the district, especially given its aging demographic.

It ain’t easy being a 75-bed independent suburban hospital these days – SVH officials under constant scrutiny to steer a quality ship anchored by increasingly heavy operating costs can attest to that.

And so can district residents who’ve reliably ponied up millions of dollars in property tax revenue over the years in order for the hospital to make ends meet.

“Let there be light” is the motto of the University of California San Francisco.

Nice to see a bit of light for Sonoma Valley Hospital as well. Fiat lux, Sonoma.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.