Financed via bonds, stimulus; ‘we provide a true medical home’

The Petaluma Health Center last week broke ground on an expansion that will double its patient volume and significantly increase services offered at the federally qualified health center.

[caption id="attachment_24163" align="alignright" width="360"] The Petaluma Health Center last week broke ground on an expansion that will double its patient volume and significantly increase services offered at the federally qualified health center.[/caption]

In early June, the center purchased a 53,000-square-foot vacant building on North McDowell Boulevard after receiving a $5.87 million loan from UnitedHealth Group and $8.9 million in federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The center was one of 85 federally qualified health centers in the country to receive ARRA funds, officials said.

On hand to celebrate the groundbreaking were state Sen. Mark Leno, D-Marin; Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Petaluma Mayor Pamela Torliatt, who offered praise for the center’s staff and its chief executive, Kathie Powell, for serving as a vital health net that will have an increasing importance in the delivery of health care.

[caption id="attachment_24164" align="alignleft" width="108"] Kathryn Powell[/caption]

“We provide a true medical home,” Ms. Powell said, adding that the current site, at 15,000 square feet, is far too small for the services offered. “We converted bathrooms,” at the existing center, which serves 15,000 patients a year with over 75,000 annual visits, she said. The number of patients is expected to double with the new location, which is slated to open by June 1 of next year. Construction is expected to begin this November.

[caption id="attachment_24165" align="alignright" width="108"] Mark Leno[/caption]

“It’s not often we get to say ‘Your tax dollars at work’ with a smile on your face,” Sen. Leno said, referring to the stimulus monies allocated to health centers. “Without this health center, we would not be providing quality health care in Petaluma.”

Cal-Mortgage, a division of the Offices of Statewide Health and Planning Development, backed the tax-exempt bonds that enabled the building to be purchased. The $5 million in bonds have a 5.5 percent average interest rate and a 30-year term. The new location will be a level 3 OSHPD certified health center, serving 30,000 people in Petaluma.

Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group purchased the bonds through its California Health Care Investment Program. Additionally, the health center qualified for a cost of assurance subsidy of about $620,000, the company said. The total project is expected to cost about $15.5 million.

The number of health providers at the center is expected to double from 30 medical and dental professionals, while staff is expected to grow by 90 people from the 100 employees already working in the existing center.

“We believe it is essential that medically underserved residents in the southern Sonoma County area continue to have this important health care resource,” said Steve Nelson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s West Region, a division of the UnitedHealth Group, whose California program is a 20-year, $200 million fund for health organizations “that provide services to underserved, low-income and underinsured communities” throughout the state.

Nurit Licht, the center’s medical director, said the integrated health model at the new location will be a “key element” in providing health care. The new site will include more room for three or four new dentists instead of the one it has now, and it will include a pharmacy, commercial kitchen with a grocery store mock up meant for teaching up to 15 patients at a time the merits of shopping in a more healthful but cost-effective manner.

“The entire focus is on wellness and integrated behavioral health,” Ms. Licht said. “We really think this is what Petaluma wants and needs.”***

West County Health Centers’ Russian River Health Center celebrated its 37th anniversary last week, bringing out an array of current and former staff. The Guerneville location, part of a five-center system, has played a vital role in rural West County and will continue to do so in light of the recent health overhaul, officials said.

“We’re really excited about what’s happening with health care reform and the role health centers play in it,” said Executive Director Mary Szecsey.

Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose district includes the Guerneville location, echoed the sentiment.

“The focus around prevention, I think this model is really driven by health centers,” he said in remarks to assembled staff and friends of the center. “I know health centers in this county have influenced what happened nationally, and it’s a testament that this model works.”***

Sonoma Valley Hospital was given a $22.9 million check as part of its final portion of general obligation bonds. The money will be used for facility renovations and seismic upgrades.***

Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol announced the hiring of a new urologist recently, Dr. Peter Bretan. Dr. Bretan is a kidney transplant surgeon and has a general neurology practice with an emphasis on urologic oncology, female urology and renal laproscopic surgery.

Kaiser Permanente Medical Center of San Rafael has a new assistant administrator of support services, Renjie Yuan. His responsibilities will include assisting management of the center’s following departments:  engineering, environmental health and safety, material management, nutrition services, security, environmental services, biomedical engineering, operator services and capital planning and construction.***

Three Sutter Health-affiliated North Bay hospitals were awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the California Hospitals Assessment Reporting Task Force. Novato Community Hospital, Sutter Lakeside Hospital in Lakeport and Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa were the region’s three hospitals to be recognized along with seven other Sutter affiliates throughout the state.


Submit items for this column to Dan Verel at dverel@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4257 or fax 707-521-5292.