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‘Universal care’ beds relieve pressure on emergency room

SANTA ROSA – Sutter Health plans to implement several progressive, efficiency-minded concepts into the design for the future Santa Rosa medical center, including the use of “universal care units” and privately financed facilities.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will host the first of several public workshops on the hospital plan this morning. Officials say they have questions about the proposal, including the smaller number of beds.

“There are some concerns about the proposal, one being the number of beds,” said Board Chairman Mike Kerns. “We want to make sure we have sufficient beds to accommodate the need now and in the future.”

The universal care unit model Sutter’s proposal includes “has been tried in various places, but not to my knowledge really on a large scale in California,” said Glenn Gall, a regional supervisor for the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

“It’s a model meant to increase efficiency and safety. It decreases transfers because rather than moving the patient, his records ... all over the hospital through his care, he stays in the same place and the different providers come to his location. ... Time has shown less patient transfers result in less mistakes.”

Last year, Sutter announced intentions to permanently close its aging Santa Rosa campus after losses of more than $108 million, and estimates to build a new, seismically compliant hospital topped $250 million.

Officials had hoped to transfer Sutter’s Health Care Access Agreement obligations to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, but negotiations failed earlier this year and Sutter was again faced with either rebuilding or retrofitting to meet state regulatory deadlines.

Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa spokeswoman Lisa Amador said the new proposal for a 70-bed hospital, about half the size of the current site, will have the advantage of a more flexible design and a size that will better contain costs.

The new drawings also significantly cut the price of the building to be constructed on Sutter property adjacent to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts to about $176 million.

“It is a future-focus type delivery of care,” she said. “Ultimately, it is less expensive for the patient but also more cost-effective for the hospital.”

Mr. Glenn said the universal care unit model is meant to streamline operations by reducing patient transfers while more efficiently using the facility’s emergency department.

The proposed hospital would have 16 of the universal care beds adjoining the 12-bay emergency department. The area can be used for a variety of services including post anesthesia, surgical pre-op, recovery, injections and short-term observation.

“When someone comes into the emergency department, they might not necessarily have a critical care need, but at that point they are taking up a bed,” Ms. Amador said.

“By having the universal care unit, patients that are noncritical can be evaluated and triaged, observed in that location and not take up an inpatient bed, which is more expensive.”

The new hospital would include other leading-edge design methods, including all private rooms with family areas and green-building elements.

The plan should also benefit from the convenience of a privately owned medical office building and 28-bed hospital planned for the neighboring plot that could provide a pipeline of patient referrals for inpatient procedures.

Sutter plans to lease the grounds to a real estate developer that would build the neighboring building and lease the facility to an operational partnership of about 60 doctors, some from Sutter’s medical foundation and other independent providers.