North Bay foundation now at 80 physcians; to 'regionalize' with SF group

SONOMA COUNTY - Sutter Health's North Bay medical group has more than quadrupled in size in the past two years, and as officials prepare to add even more doctors and specialties, the foundation will merge with its San Francisco counterpart as part of a regionalization strategy.

[caption id="attachment_14264" align="alignright" width="252" caption="Lobby and pediatric waiting room in the landmark building in north Santa Rosa"][/caption]

Since the beginning of 2007, Sutter's physicians group – Sutter Medical Foundation North Bay – has grown from 24 doctors to more than 85 in 10 specialty areas, most recently adding internal medicine, hospitalist, pulmonary and an intensivist.

During the same time period, the group launched a new division in Lake County and increased to 19 care sites, including about 55,000 square feet in the Landmark building in north Santa Rosa across Highway 101 from the site of its proposed hospital. The group also employs about 200 support staff.

"Almost all of our recruitment has come from within the area. It's become really tough for doctors to practice on their own just because of technology expenses and regulation and other things," said foundation Executive Director Chris Rogers.

"I think we are an attractive model because we are so established and we have the economies of scale to take over the business side and let doctors focus on care."

He said recent growth was swifter than anticipated, and he expects to hit 120 physicians in 20 specialties during the next two years.

At the same time, the organization is commencing a "regionalization" effort meant to increase the efficiency and access to care for local patients. The North Bay foundation will officially merge with the California Pacific Medical Center out of San Francisco Jan. 1. The city medical foundation recently opened a multispecialty center in Novato, and it oversees two offices in Greenbrae and Terra Linda.

"The regionalization is meant to increase efficiencies for our administrative overhead - having one CFO, controller, things like that - but also better coordinated care for patients," Mr. Rogers said.

The San Francisco group includes more than 100 physicians that will immediately be connected with North Bay patients' electronic medical records in the event that they have to be referred out of the area. The effort will avoid common incidences in unconnected groups, such as miscommunications between providers and duplication of tests and procedures.

Creating a self-funded model

Also in the works, a Sutter-created conglomeration of 12 Northern California medical groups is working to form a self-funded product that will be offered to employers sometime in 2012.

Sutter launched the 3,000-doctor Northern California Physician Network early in 2008 after more than two years developing the model. The group is comprised of eight Sutter groups and four independent practices, including the Marin Individual Practice Association.

Sutter hopes to eventually create a managed-care-type model that would directly link the group with the employer, who would have access to all network physicians and care centers.