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Will replace one built in 1928; emergency room to double in size

[caption id="attachment_35184" align="alignright" width="324"] Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital built in 1928[/caption]

WILLITS – Faced with meeting state-mandated seismic requirements, Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital and its operating company, Adventist Health, have opted to rebuild rather than retrofit, a project of significant scope for health care in rural Mendocino County, officials said.

The 25-bed critical care hospital, built in 1928 by the owner of famed racing horse Seabiscuit, is currently about 30,000 square feet. When it’s rebuilt on 33 acres near the existing location, the hospital will be a part of a two-story medical campus totaling roughly 74,000 square feet. It will likely include a medical office building and possibly a wellness center.

[caption id="attachment_35185" align="alignleft" width="396"] Rendering of the new medical campus[/caption]

Although the campus will be more than twice the size of the original, the size of the hospital will remain roughly the same, at 25-beds, which will maintain the hospital’s critical care designation, according to Terry Hansen, interim chief executive officer for the hospital.

The total project is expected to cost about $62 million, of which about $42 million will go toward construction costs and $8 million toward equipment, Mr. Hansen said. Adventist Health, a Roseville-based health group that operates 17 hospitals and numerous clinics throughout California, Oregon and Hawaii, will foot the bill for the hospital portion of the project. Adventist, which operates St. Helena Hospital in Northern Napa County, has leased operations from the Frank R. Howard Memorial Foundation for 25 years.

[caption id="attachment_35186" align="alignright" width="324"] Site where new hospital will be built[/caption]

The foundation will pay for non-hospital elements, such as the medical office building and wellness center. Those plans have yet to take final shape.

“Right now we haven’t figured out how to pencil that out yet,” said Margie Handley, chairman of the foundation board. “We still have a lot of research to do.”

The new hospital “will enable us not only to have a new facility for our community but also starts to fulfill our vision for a master campus plan,” Ms. Handley said.

Plans for the project were submitted in April to the Office of Statewide Health Planning Development, which must give final approval, according to Mr. Hansen. Adventist and the foundation said they expect the back-and-forth period with OSHPD to take about a year. Construction of the hospital portion is expected to take about two years and be completed by summer 2014, Mr. Hansen and Ms. Handley said.

The foundation has put forth about $2.5 million in preparation work for the site, a 33-acre parcel that the foundation will maintain ownership of, while Adventist will own the newly-built hospital for the next 50 years.

“This just made sense for all of us,” Ms. Handley said of the arraignment between the foundation and Adventist. “They have a 50-year lease on the hospital, and at the end of 50 years the building will become ours. It’s really kind of a win-win.”

The site will also include an eight-acre organic garden, which is already under way, Ms. Handley said.

The new hospital will double the size of the emergency department, from “a very cramped and crowded” five beds to nine beds, two of which will be trauma beds, Mr. Hansen said. Operating rooms will increase from two to four as well. It will consist of 21 medical-surgery beds and four intensive care unit beds.

“We’re excited about it,” Mr. Hansen added.

Construction will be carried out by HBE, a design-build firm out of St. Louis, Mo., that has built numerous hospitals in California, Ms. Handley said.

Willits may be a long ways from anything else, but the hospital receives referrals from all over the state and beyond for orthopedic surgery by well-known surgeon Dr. Bill Bowen, Ms. Handley and Mr. Hansen said. It also takes part in telemedicine with Palm Drive Hospital’s Dr. James Gude. The hospital also partners with U.C., Davis on a residency program.

The hospital was built in honor of Charles Howard’s son, Frank Howard, who was injured in a car accident in 1925 and died because of the lack of a full-service hospital. As a result, Charles Howard put up the “staggering sum” of $30,000 to build the existing hospital that opened in 1928.

The relative sparseness of hospitals in Mendocino – in Fort Bragg, Ukiah, Garberville and Willits – makes it all the more important that access to health care is maintained, Ms. Handley said, adding that the building of the new Howard Memorial would be an economic boon to the area.

The current hospital has 216 full-time equivalents, a number that will increase by about 10 percent at the new hospital, Mr. Hansen said.

“Adventist Health … is looking forward to working with the foundation to provide an amazing patient care experience for the residents of, and visitors to, northern Mendocino County,” said Scott Reiner, Adventist Health senior vice president and chair of the hospital board, when the contract was signed last September.

Santa Rosa-based law firm Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross has advised the foundation on the project for the past six years.