Will serve another 6,000; second phase to bring total patients to 35,000

[caption id="attachment_34866" align="alignright" width="396"] Petaluma Health Center[/caption]

PETALUMA – Southern Sonoma County’s largest health center, and the second biggest provider of primary care, will soon open the doors of its new, $15.5 million home that will significantly expand services and increase capacity for underserved and uninsured populations, officials said.

The Petaluma Health Center will begin treating patients by June 15 at a brand new facility that more than triples the physical size of the center – from about 15,000 square feet at its current Southpoint Boulevard location to 53,000 square feet at the new location at 1179 North McDowell Blvd.

The expansion will enable the center to accommodate 25 percent more patients in the immediate term, up to about 21,000 from the 15,000 it already serves primarily from Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Cotati. Eventually, as phase two construction is completed in August, the center said it expects to treat approximately 35,000 total patients.

Nationally, community health centers treat an estimated 20 million people a year – a number that is expected to double by 2015 as a result of the federal health care overhaul. Such centers are seen as a vital step in reducing costly emergency room visits by focusing on preventative primary care.

The largest building project in Petaluma in 2010, the federally qualified health center’s move was made possible by $8.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds—one of 85 such centers in the nation to receive stimulus dollars.

Additionally, Cal-Mortgage, a division of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, backed tax-exempt bonds totaling $5 million. Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group then purchased the bonds through its California Health Care Investment. The center also qualified for a cost of issuance subsidy grant from UnitedHealth of about $620,000.

Another $500,000 in federal funds was secured by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

The phase two construction will cost an estimated $3 million and will be covered by a mix of private funding and a capital campaign.

“This is an exciting time for me, for our staff and our patients,” said Kathie Powell, the center’s chief executive officer. “This new center will increase our capacity right away to meet the health and wellness needs of our community, to offer new innovative programs and to truly serve as a patient-centered medical home.”

The new health center will have 44 medical exam rooms and nine dental rooms– an increase of 13 and six rooms, respectively, for those services. An additional 35 medical and support staff will be hired, bringing the total to 150, according to the center.

A separate OB/GYN section and an area for behavioral health are among just some of the expanded offerings. Other services include center’s emphasis on wellness, preventative and integrated care, using a mix of Eastern and Western techniques. And part of the relocated center will include a demonstration kitchen and mock up grocery store that will hold classes on the merits of shopping in a more healthful but cost-effective manner.

The center will also have a garden on site managed by Petaluma Bounty, a non-profit that sells produce in the parking lot once a week at the current location, that will supply patients with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Petaluma’s Women, Infant and Children office will also be moved to the new center from City Hall, since the two organizations serve similar patient bases.

Midstate Construction of Petaluma coordinated major renovations at the former office building, and the new center will feature numerous environmental efforts to reduce energy. About 90 percent of all demolished materials will be recycled, as well.