Seen as key step for Marin General; may grow in Sonoma County

MARIN AND SONOMA  — Marin General Hospital, along with the Prima Medical Group and Marin IPA, announced the formation of a foundation that aims to attract top-notch physicians to the region as well as help the hospital maintain competitiveness now that it has transferred operations away from Sutter Health.

The Prima Medical Group already worked closely with Marin General, as well as Sonoma Valley Hospital, but the foundation will expand efforts in both counties for two independent health care districts. The Marin Healthcare District regained control of operations at Marin General just over two weeks ago.

“The creation of the foundation strengthens the relationship, and in effect takes the relationship to the next level,” said Jon Friedenberg, the district’s chief fund and business development officer. “It will allow us to be more successful in Marin. Clearly, the way that the medical landscape looks is that in other communities, you find physicians aligning with other providers, so it’s important that we have a critical mass of physicians that are of high quality.”

Prima Medical Group, founded in 2005, has practices in Terra Linda, Novato, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Larkspur, Greenbrae and Sonoma.

Such a non-profit foundation must have at least 40 physicians from at least 10 different specialty areas in order to obtain a tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit corporation, according to officials.

The newly-formed Prima Medical Foundation anticipates having between 60 and 80 physicians that specialize in areas of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, pulmonary and critical care, general surgery and orthopedic surgery, among others.

Sonoma Valley Hospital currently has four Prima physicians in areas of family practice, internal medicine, general and orthopedic surgery, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Durrance. More are expected to join Sonoma Valley as a result of the foundation.

“The foundation should be very helpful in increasing the healthcare services Sonoma Valley Hospital can provide to the community,” she said.

Exactly how much of an expansion into Sonoma is still being determined, said Prima spokeswoman Marcy Territo, but she said recruitment will take place in the near future.

Both Sonoma Valley Hospital and Marin General have had difficult, transitional periods over the past few years, with the Marin Healthcare District consumed by the Sutter severance agreement, and Sonoma Valley posting an $850,000 loss in 2009.

Mr. Friedenberg said the foundation, as well as other efforts, will enable Marin General to remain competitive amid a challenging health care landscape, a point that has been echoed by Sonoma Valley Hospital as the two explore a partnership that could provide significant cost-saving measures.

“I think in the land of giants, if there are ways for district hospitals and independent hospitals to support each other, I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

Marin IPA, an independent practice association, negotiates HMO contracts for over 300 physician members in Marin and Sonoma counties. Its physicians refer patients to Marin General, Sonoma Valley, Petaluma Valley Hospital and Novato Community Hospital.

[caption id="attachment_23123" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Joel Criste"][/caption]

“We see the Prima Medical Foundation as an opportunity to keep oversight and leadership of health care in Marin local and to add stability to our hospitals and physicians,” Marin IPA Chief Executive Officer Joel Criste said in a statement announcing the foundation.