The former Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol was the only hospital west of Highway 101 in Sonoma County until it closed April 28, 2014.
As debts and regulatory requirements mounted, the Palm Drive District Board of Directors voted to close the facility.
“This catastrophic decision caused a train-wreck in our community,” said Dan Smith, chairman of the board of Sonoma West Medical Center.
He’s also CEO of Sebastopol-based E-Health Records International. It builds and deploys low-cost hospital information systems and electronic health records for hospitals and clinics in the developing world.
“Not only did it put nearly 250 employees out of work and drastically compromise the health and well-being of everyone living in and visiting western Sonoma County, its loss severely impacted the ability of police and firefighters to do their jobs,” Smith said.
A local entrepreneur and philanthropist, he and his wife, Joan Marler, heard the broad-based public outcry to “open our hospital,” as shown on thousands of red lawn signs throughout west Sonoma County in one of the area’s most significant grassroots campaigns.
Smith and Marler worked long hours for months to resurrect the facility, answering issues raised by the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, or OSHPD. They hired experienced professionals for the painstaking task of rewriting policies and procedures, programming electronic medical records software and setting up clinical practices that would exceed standard levels of care. Many of those professionals were ex-Palm Drive employees who had lost their jobs due to the previous closure.
Smith and Marler believe that reopening the community hospital was the single most beneficial act they could take to give back to their community.
“When people ask us why we did this, we say to both save and improve lives,” Smith said.
The hospital reopened as Sonoma West Medical Center on Oct. 30. Today it employs 120 full-time. In the months since opening to the public, the hospital has treated more than 4,800 patients.
Among a range of medical services, surgeries being performed include life-saving procedures, stroke stabilization and elective operations.
The emergency department aims for a “low wait” goal of no more than a five- to 15-minute wait time from door to doctor.
Patients come to the hospital with emergency conditions, a need for surgery, intensive care unit observation, overnight hospital stays or outpatient procedures such as phlebotomy, x-rays, ultrasound, physical rehabilitation and 3-D mammography.
From June 2014 to today, Smith and Marler have given $9 million toward rebuilding, operating and maintaining the hospital. This is the first time that a public hospital in California has been reopened by its community after it was closed.
“This was indeed a historic even that would not have happened without Smith and Marler’s enormously generous donation of funds, and also of their time, intellect and compassion,” said Raymond Hino, medical center CEO.