'Huge need' for 95-bed facility

[caption id="attachment_31221" align="alignright" width="324" caption="Aurora Behavioral Health's Santa Rosa facility"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Absent from Sonoma County for the past three years, acute psychiatric care will return to the region this year when a Southern California-based mental health provider reopens a facility on Fulton Road that housed such services until it was shuttered in 2008.

In December 2009, Corona-based Signature Healthcare Services purchased the 52,000-square-foot facility at 1287 Fulton Road that was previously operated by Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Signature is planning to have the new hospital up and running by the end of 2011, with construction and building renovations set to take place in either April or May, pending approval from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, , according to Blair Stam, executive vice president of Signature.

The new hospital will return services for adolescents, which have been missing from Sonoma County since the 1980s.

“There is a huge need,” Mr. Stam said. “We’re moving as quickly as possible. We are very excited about the project, and we are going to do everything we can to fill that need.”

The new facility, to be one of eight Aurora Behavioral Health Centers that Signature operates in three states, will have around 95 inpatient beds, Mr. Stam said – about double the amount offered throughout the county when Memorial’s facility closed.

Signature’s new hospital could also be a significant boon to the local economy – approximately 300 jobs will be created, and Mr. Stam said hiring locally was preferred.

“The more local employees, the better,” he said.

Sutter Health closed its inpatient psychiatric facility, which had about 30 licensed beds, in 2007. Currently, there are no psychiatric beds in the county.

The closure of those facilities echoed a national trend at the time -- a declining patient census, which in turn made operating them a financial burden for private and public health providers alike, said Michael Kennedy, director of Sonoma County’s mental health services division.

But the subsequent absence of a psychiatric hospital has created a void of services, and the new hospital will likely draw patients from beyond Sonoma County, Mr. Kennedy said.

“A regional hospital is the way to go,” he said.

Signature’s new hospital will eliminate the need to transfer patients out of the county. County Health currently refers patients to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, St. Helena Hospital in Napa County, Sacramento and other hospitals as far away as Los Angeles, Mr. Kennedy said.

Following the closure of Memorial’s facility, the county held a series of roundtable meetings to address growing concern surrounding the lack of local psychiatric care. The mental health division determined sending patients elsewhere, particularly youths, was not always the best model.

County Health currently has psychiatric emergency services in the way of a crisis stabilization center, where patients can stay for up to 23 hours, and a crisis residential program, with 10 beds, where patients can stay for up to 30 days.

For details on the Aurora Behavioral Health Centers and job opportunities, visit the company website.

CLARIFICATION, June 20, 2011: An earlier version of this story featured a logo for Signature HealthCARE, which is a different company than Signature Healthcare Services.