Long-term goals focus on attracting local residents, cost management

[caption id="attachment_22897" align="alignleft" width="178" caption="Kelly Mather"][/caption]

SONOMA – Sonoma Valley Hospital has a new top executive and plans for further shoring up the organization's finances while modernizing facilities and increasing services.

Sonoma Valley Health Care District named former hospital administrator and “healing model” advocate Kelly Mather, 43, as president and chief executive officer of the 83-bed hospital. She will replace Carl Gerlach on July 19.

Ms. Mather describes her administrative style as fast-starting. Two years after coming to her last administrative post, eight years as CEO of Sutter Lakeside in Lakeport, the hospital became a preferred hospital in Lake County.

“I’m a growth CEO,” she said. “And in a time when many hospitals in California are losing money, to be coming to a hospital that is viable is really a plus.”

Sonoma Valley Hospital is likely to have positive net income at the end of its fiscal year, which was June 30, according to Chief Financial Officer Tim Noakes. Fiscal 2011 is expected to have better operating performance because of newly reworked operations and growth initiatives.

"Although operating performance for the first five months of fiscal year 2010 fell well below budget operating targets, Sonoma Valley Hospital has accomplished a positive net income in each of the subsequent months" through May, he said. "This performance has been the result of slightly increased volume levels coupled with improved productivity and fiscal controls."

Sonoma Valley Hospital posted an $850,000 loss in calendar 2009.

A new business plan was unveiled at the district board meeting in late June, focused on sustaining the hospital's finances over the long term, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Durrance.

"It's a combination of growth and management of costs," she said.

The hospital is expanding orthopedics, inpatient and outpatient surgery and imaging, particularly on-site MRI. Key to attracting more Sonoma Valley residents that typically travel elsewhere for medical care is to have local surgeons and family-practice physicians and equipped facilities, Ms. Durrance said.

The hospital has recruited seven doctors in the past year. In late June, Dr. Michael Brown of Sonoma Orthopedic Surgery conducted the facility's first total hip replacement.

To supply earthquake-resistant and modern facilities in which they can practice, the district board on June 29 unanimously approved a five-year plan for $83 million in capital improvements, including $64 million in elements that are considered a high priority.

Known sources of funding include $35 million in general obligation bonds approved by voters last year. Those sources plus operational efficiencies are estimated to supply $51 million to $58 million.

Also contributing to free cash flow could be a proposed cost-sharing affiliation with Marin Healthcare District, which just assumed management of Marin General Hospital.

Sonoma Valley Hospital's new chief executive said she’s been in tough operational situations before. As a 28-year-old chief executive at San Leandro Hospital in 1996, she led the organization for five years as buyers were sought for the struggling hospital. The hospital secured a key accreditation two years later and was sold to Eden Medical Center just after she left in 2001 to take the helm of a more stable hospital, Sutter Health System’s Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport.

That hospital suffered from a similar problem as Sonoma Valley Hospital’s, with many residents going outside the area for medical care, she said. During her time there, she developed what she calls the “healing model for hospitals.”

The four levels of care in that model are traditional hospital care, staff wellness, health-awareness education and community outreach.

In 2008 she left Sutter Lakeside to start Harmony Healing House, a hospital consultancy based on the model, and wrote six books. Mendocino District Hospital recently completed an 18-month pilot use of the model.

“I was not hired to take that to Sonoma Valley, but the board is intrigued about the model,” she said. “I was hired as an administrator, and if they choose to use the model it could improve community trust and the hospital’s reputation.”