Local health, community leaders: Fountaingrove facility fills critical need

SANTA ROSA — Now that the financial dust has at least temporarily settled following a flurry of fundraising, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers’ successful effort to obtain a new space for its expanding services underscores the importance of community health centers locally and mirrors a nationwide trend, officials said last week.

After the center closed escrow on its $17.7 million Fountaingrove clinic on Wednesday, various representatives who contributed to the cause agreed that Santa Rosa, both residents and health care providers alike, stands to benefit from the expansion.

“The whole community benefits because it’s really our safety net for the uninsured,” said Carl Campbell, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente and co-chair of the capital fund campaign. “That’s really the place they can go.”

Kaiser contributed $350,000 to the cause, which it said would provide the kind of preventative care that would keep people out of emergency rooms.

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County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose Third District will house the new clinic, went a step further.

“Community health centers are no long the safety net — they are the net,” she said, speaking generally about expansion of such providers.

With some 62,000 uninsured or underinsured people in Sonoma County, places such as Santa Rosa Community Health Centers are essential in mitigating the health impact that would otherwise burden surrounding hospitals, she said. The board voted unanimously recently to contribute $500,000 to the campaign for the Fountaingrove center.

Lisa Amador, a spokeswoman for Sutter Health, pointed to the long-standing partnership between Santa Rosa Community Health Centers, formerly Southwest, as a key component to both the center’s expansion as well as the importance of such centers.

Sutter has leased the space where the Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency is currently located. Southwest has operated the program since 2007. At that time Sutter gave Southwest a forgivable loan of $1.2 million. Now that Southwest is expanding, Sutter is forgiving that loan, releasing Southwest from its lease agreement early and providing an additional $250,000 for the most recent campaign.

Both the residency program and the Chanate Family Practice Center will move into the newly purchased property, while the organization’s six other clinics will remain in their current locations.

The purchase was made possible through $2.1 million in fundraising from the community as well as tax-exempt bonds, officials said.

Other significant contributions, amounting to $100,000 each, came from St. Joseph Health System–Sonoma County, the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation, the Trione Foundation and individual donors Frank and Kathleen Mayhew, each with $100,000 apiece.

St. Joseph Health said it has collaborated extensively with Santa Rosa Community Health Centers.

“We’re grateful that the clinic we helped establish in 1996 has blossomed into what it is today – an expanding network of clinics that care for the growing needs of our neighbors who are uninsured and underinsured," the statement read. "This donation of $100,000 is consistent with our 14-year history of actively supporting Southwest and its patients."

With the purchase of the 42,500-square-foot building on Round Barn Circle, the center said it will be able to serve an additional 9,500 patients that it expects to absorb within the next three years, many of whom lack health insurance altogether and live below the federal poverty line. It currently serves 25,000 patients and is second only to Kaiser Permanente, which has 140,000 members, in providing primary care in Santa Rosa.

“The new health center will benefit everyone in the community,” health centers Chief Executive Officer Naomi Fuchs said. “We will be able to provide a lasting medical home for thousands of people who otherwise would not be able to get the medical care they need and deserve.”

She added that the new center will play an especially vital role for the approximately 100 people the center has to turn away every week because of lack of space.

Kaiser's Mr. Campbell echoed this notion, adding the community health centers in general are of increasing importance as people lose their health insurance because of the economy.

“A lot of folks believe that if we got health care reform the clinics would be an even bigger part of that,” he said.

Capital Campaign Manager Jesika Jennings said the center drew $200,000 from its own reserves to finalize the funding for the building acquisition. The fundraising effort will remain in place as the center attempts to make up that difference. A second phase of fundraising will seek an additional $1.2 million to complete equipment and furnishing of the new center.

Ms. Fuchs expressed appreciation for support of the effort to address "the overwhelming demand for medical care in Santa Rosa."

"I am profoundly touched by the generosity of our many dedicated donors and volunteers who responded to this extraordinary opportunity to create a new health center, particularly during difficult economic times," she said