FORT BRAGG -- Mendocino Coast District Hospital has completed a revamped, state-of-the art diagnostic imaging center that will help expand services to its rural patient base, according to officials involved with the upgrade.

The total project, at 8,000 square feet and including a bevy of brand new equipment, cost about $7 million, according to Raymond Hino, chief executive officer of the 25-bed district hospital.

The majority of that cost is covered with bonds backed by UnitedHealth Group, which contributed $5 million to the center as part of its California Health Care Investment Program, a 20-year, $200 million fund that has helped fund other significant North Bay projects.

The hospital will fund the remaining $2 million through a capital campaign by the hospital’s foundation as well as lease agreements with some of the equipment.

Mr. Hino said the new imaging center and the equipment – including separate rooms for CT-scans, MRIs, digital mammography, new x-ray equipment, ultrasounds, among others – is sorely needed at the facility.

“We’ve been working on this project for about the last four years,” he said. “We had identified that the diagnostic imaging equipment was getting close to end of life. In other cases, our MRI equipment was outside in a trailer.”

In addition to replacing aging equipment, which in itself better serves patients, Mr. Hino said the brand new imaging center and the technology with it will help the hospital maintain a level of competitiveness.

“Diagnostic imaging is a major revenue engine for hospitals,” Mr. Hino said. “We can compete with major hospitals, because it’s dependent on equipment and personnel, not specialists.”

Much of Mendocino’s patient base looks to Sonoma County or further for specialized health care needs. While that’s still likely to continue is some respects, the new diagnostic imaging center is one area where the hospital can keep residents from traveling out of county for health care.

Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group funded the bulk of the project because it met certain criteria it uses in determining which projects to fund, said William Olson, market medical director of UnitedHealthcare of California. UnitedHealth Group is the parent company of UnitedHealthcare.

The Mendocino hospital is considered a “critical access” hospital, serving a sizable portion of low-income, rural patients. It’s also one of only three hospitals in the county.

District hospitals in particular benefit from upgrades in technology, and Mendocino Coast’s diagnostic imaging center is a perfect example, Dr. Olson said.

“It’s become critical. Without imaging, you’d feel like you’re blindfolded. It is a critical aspect of modern medicine,” he said.

“It translates to much better clinical care for people in that community,” he added.

UnitedHeallth Group’s fund has actually exceeded the $200 million mark, Dr. Olson said. But a spokesperson said United would continue to fund numerous projects throughout the state.

The same fund loaned $5.87 million to the Petaluma Health Center for its purchase of a new building that doubles its size and capacity. The health center is set to open the new location in June. And Healdsburg District Hospital is among a group of rural hospitals that could be in line to receive a $10 million bond offering, which would fund electronic health records.