The Northern California Center for Well Being last week held its annual benefit, Celebration of Dreams, where Sonoma County health care professionals and officials were honored for their efforts in health and wellness.

The center, which focuses on preventive and wellness care, honored the following individuals and businesses: St. Francis Winery, as Healthy Business Leader; Kathie Myers, RN from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, as Health Care Leader; Dr. Ben Brown, director of family medicine at the Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program, as physician leader; Maria Fincher,of Univision, as community leader; County Supervisor Shirlee Zane as government leader; and Claudia Alcantra, a senior at Roseland University Prep.

The event also raised money for the non-profit center through both a silent and live auction.***

Partnership HealthPlan of California has been designated by the state as the Community Provider Plan for the Healthy Families program in Sonoma County, which Partnership says will enable it to offer those enrolled in the program lower premiums than other health plans.

The Fairfield-based, non-profit managed Medi-Cal provider also recently expanded its reach into Marin and Mendocino counties, giving it roughly 38,000 new members in six Northern California counties. In Sonoma County, the Healthy Families program has about 7,000 enrollees.

The state's Managed Medical Insurance Board each year names a Community Provider Plan in each county, based on which plan has the most extensive list of both traditional and safety-net providers in its network, according to Partnership, whose network includes Napa, Yolo, Sonoma, Solano, Marin and Mendocino counties. Within those counties, its providers include most hospitals, federally qualified health centers, medical groups and even specialists.

Partnership pays physicians a higher reimbursement rate for its Medi-Cal patients than the state, which in turn expands the number of physicians willing to take on Medi-Cal patients, according to the health plan and county health officials.

"It's huge," said Rita Scardaci, director of Sonoma County Health and Human Services, when asked about the significance of the recent expansion. "The plan picks up a lot of processing, case management, pharmacies, lab work, that lifts some of those tasks from health care providers, as well as sets rates," she said. 

Partnership administers benefits for some 200,000 total members and its 2011-2012 budget is $910 million.***

The Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program, the largest source of primary care physicians to Sonoma County, received a grant of $154,845 as part of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development's $2.6 million award to family practice residency training programs. The aim of the awards is to increase the number or primary care physicians throughout the state. The state, like the rest of the U.S., is facing an anticipated shortage of doctors, particularly in lieu of health care reform.

“Investing in these programs is one of the many ways California is working to address the inequity of primary care physicians statewide,” said OSHPD Acting Director Stephanie Clendenin.

The Santa Rosa residency program was the only North Bay program named in the awards. The awards are administered through The Song-Brown Program, which was established by the Health Care Workforce Training Act to increase the number of family practice physicians, family nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and registered nurses trained in the state. It is funded by the California Health Data Planning Fund. Funds are generated through an annual assessment to health facilities based on a percentage of their gross operating expenses.***

The board of directors at Palm Drive Hospital will appoint a replacement instead of holding a special election to fill the seat of director Jared Dryfus, who died of a heart attack Sept. 6. Interviews will be conducted for two weeks and a decision on the appointment will occur in either late October or early November. 

Mr. Dryfus, who was 65, was the board secretary and served on its governance committee. He was also part of a committee that was tasked with exploring possible affiliations for the 37-bed hospital with other health care organizations.  Mr. Dryfus was elected last November two serve a two-year term that expires in November 2012.

Meanwhile, Dan Smith, an outspoken board member who loaned the hospital $1 million of his own money, unexpectedly resigned last week amid disagreement over a contract with OffSiteCare, a Petaluma-based telemedicine company owned by Dr. James Gude. 

Mr. Smith, who forgave the $1 million loan as the hospital entered into bankruptcy protection, had recently disclosed that he also loaned OffSiteCare $175,000 while acting as a consultant. His fellow board members viewed the financial ties as a conflict of interest, according to Stark Laws that prohibit public district hospital board members from having a financial stake in the hospital. As such, the board voted not to renew the $40,000-a-month contract with OffSiteCare, which provides physicians, telemedicine, respiratory and hospitalist care and oversees the intensive care unit at Palm Drive.

The contract ends at the end of October, but Mr. Smith's resignation will enable the hospital to reconsider its decision to end the  contract with the company, which is often credited with helping to stabilize finances at the hospital. Dr. Gude and the telemedicine service has  been cited as an attractive element by other health care organizations that have expressed interest in affiliating with Palm Drive. He provides similar services for Frank R. Memorial and Ukiah Valley hospitals in Mendocino County, both affiliates of Adventist Health, which has expressed a strong interest in aligning with Palm Drive.

Mr. Smith said in his resignation letter that he disagreed with the board's decision to terminate the contract with OffSiteCare, but that ultimately he viewed its services to the hospital as vital for its survival. His resignation is effective Oct. 31.***

St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County recently celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its Mobile Clinic, a traveling health care center that the health system says is vital in servicing undeserved communities.

Since 1991, the Mobile Clinic has provided preventive and primary care throughout Sonoma County, overcoming transportation and language barriers, cultural differences and insurance and economic status, St. Joseph's said.

Last year, the clinic treated over 1,600 patients over the course of more than 3,400 visits. A Harvard University study found taht for every $1 invested, the mobile clinic and others like it across the U.S. yielded a $28 return in benefits to patients.***

St. Helena Hospital's Coon Joint Replacement Institute was featured in Becker's Hospital Review's most recent list, "60 Hospitals with Great Orthopedic Programs." Becker's is a leading trade journal for the health care industry.

The review scores points for length of stay, availability of advanced technologies and the quality of surgeons. The Coon Institute was founded by Dr. Thomas Coon and has performed more than 900 joint replacements since 2010. It is expected to perform about 1,500 replacements this year. St Helena Hospital Napa Valley is an affiliate of Adventist Health, which operates a Northern California Region that includes facilities from Solano to Mendocino counties.***

Six people have applied for a vacant seat on the Sonoma Valley Health Care District's board of directors, when member Dave Chambers stepped down last month. The person selected to fill the position will remain on the board until the November 2012 election.

The applicants are: Dr. Richard Raley, a retired anesthesiologist; George Ely; a retired nurse evaluator with the Department of Public Health; James Willburn, a retired chief engineer from Sonoma Valley Hospital; Daniel Vrooman, a retired pharmacist; Sharon Nevins, a member of the Finance Committee and Citizens Bond Oversight Committee; and Misty Rushing, a CRNA at Sonoma Valley Hospital.

The board will make a decision by Sept. 28 at a special meeting after it conducts interviews.***

The Ensign Group, a publicly traded operator of skilled nursing facilities and other health care businesses, has acquired the Ukiah Healthcare Center, a 57-bed skilled nursing facility in the Mendocino County city. The acquisition was announced in tandem with Ensign's (Nasdaq: ENSG) take-over of another skilled nursing facility in Southern California, the 167-bed Whittier Hills Healthcare Center. Subsidiaries of Ensign had operated both facilities since July of 2000 (Whittier) and January 2002 (Ukiah), respectively.

Ensign's subsidiaries operate number assisted living services, physical, occupational and speech therapies, home health and hospice services at 99 facilities, three hospice companies and three home health business in 10 states, including California....Submit items for this column to Dan Verel at dverel@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4257 or fax 707-521-5292.