[caption id="attachment_11543" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="A rendering of planned Petaluma Health Center project"][/caption]

PETALUMA, July 9, 2009 -The Petaluma Health Care District approved a $1 million loan to the local community clinic Wednesday, contingent on the approval of about $6.2 million in competitive federal stimulus funding.

Leaders also agreed to schedule a meeting with health care stakeholders to discuss physician-recruitment strategies, including the possible creation of a medical group or partnership with existing foundation, independent practice association (IPA) or multispecialty group.

In a decision that prompted board President Bob Ostroff to ask, "Where's the downside?" board members voted to loan Petaluma Health Center $1 million for efforts to acquire a new 53,000-square-foot building. The federally qualified health center said it needs the space to accommodate the average 450 patients it turns away monthly and to accommodate the recent recruitment of two new physicians. The clinic currently sees about 68,500 patients annually and projections show that number breaching 108,000 by 2013.

The deal is dependent on the approval of stimulus funding for "shovel-ready" building projects that would pay for the buildout of the new site. Leaders will apply for the grant early next month and would receive funding in early November if approved. The health center must also garner about $4 million in bond financing for the project. Officials said they are confident both funding streams will come though based on conversations with federal health officials and a group interested in purchasing the bonds.

If all goes according to plan, renovations on a greatly expanded clinic at 1178 N. McDowell Blvd. could begin as early as Jan. 1 and be completed by summer 2010. Board members expressed concern with the ability of the center to pay back loans with state cuts implemented and others pending, but at the same time, the center will kick off a capital campaign with a thrust of paying off the loan.

Also during the evening meeting, board members agreed to invite health care stakeholders to a roundtable discussion meant to investigate efforts to attract more physicians to the area through some form of medical group model. Officials said the effort would support the hospital by creating a "medical home" and provide a conduit for physician referrals to Petaluma Valley Hospital, though that sort of agreement can not be formalized.

The board heard a presentation on possible models for the medical group and discussed responses from a survey of local physicians. Suggested options include forming an independent practice association or partnering with the existing Marin IPA; forming a multispecialty group or connecting an existing practice with primary care physicians; or setting up a foundation or recruiting an existing group, namely Sutter Medical Foundation-North Bay or St. Joseph Health System's Heritage Model.

The board could also coordinate with Petaluma Health Center in some way or support the creation of a 1206D clinic, which is similar to a traditional multispecialty/primary care group, but it is run by a hospital and considered an "outpatient department."

Board members suggested fostering the connection of doctors through a common electronic medical records system and said they would discuss the option further during their August meeting.

"Ultimately the best model would be one that ties primary care and specialists together," said Dr. Marin Serota.

District Chief Executive Officer Daymon Doss said staff is currently conducting a physician needs assessment to gauge exactly how many more doctors are needed in the area.