Psych care to return to Sonoma County

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SANTA ROSA – A Southern California-based mental health provider plans to open an acute psychiatric care hospital in southwest Santa Rosa by early 2011, bringing back inpatient services missing from Sonoma County since early 2008 for adults and since the 1980s for youth.

A Westlake Village-based investment group called Fulton Santa Rosa LLC purchased a 52,000-square-foot general acute care facility at 1287 Fulton Road on Nov. 30, according to public records.

The goal is to have renovations completed and state licenses in place to start accepting patients in 12 to 15 months, according to Blair Stam, executive vice president of Corona-based Signature Healthcare Services.

"All our research pointed out that Santa Rosa had a significant need that was being unmet," he said.

Signature is one of the investors and operates six psychiatric hospitals, with four in Southern California, one in Chicago and another near Phoenix. Santa Rosa would be its seventh Aurora Behavioral Health Care location.

The investors have years of experience in acquiring and operating health care facilities, including acute psychiatric hospitals, senior housing and medical office buildings, according to Mr. Stam.

In April 2008, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital closed its inpatient acute psychiatric care program at the Fulton facility as part of a consolidation of acute care services to the main hospital campus. Sutter Health closed its inpatient unit in 2007.

Public health and hospital officials have been holding a number of meetings since Memorial's early 2008 announcement about the closing to discuss options for local acute psychiatric inpatient care.

"This will be a really good thing for this county and really the whole area," said Mike Kennedy, director of the county of Sonoma's mental health division.

Currently, the county transfers as many as 10 people needing Medi-Cal–supported inpatient psychiatric care at any given time to Marin General Hospital or facilities farther away. That includes one or two youths.

The goal of county mental health officials is to keep patients as close to their families and home communities as possible to speed recovery, according to Mr. Kennedy.

The county currently has temporary emergency psychiatric services at the Norton Center in east Santa Rosa as well as a contract for the 10 beds at Progress Foundation's 3-year-old crisis residential care facility in Santa Rosa. Patients returning from inpatient care would continue to use those facilities after Aurora's hospital opens, he said.

An acute psychiatric care hospital in Santa Rosa could appeal to county mental health services in Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties, which don't have such inpatient facilities, according to Mr. Kennedy.

Other interested parties likely would include private mental health practitioners and care organizations, he said. Kaiser Permanente has expressed interest in up to two dozen beds.

The Fulton facility was licensed as a general acute care facility with 76 beds, 15 for acute care, 38 for psychiatric care and 23 for skilled nursing. The new owners want to have more than 90 beds for adults and adolescents. More patient rooms will be created by finishing a wing of offices originally built to be patient rooms but didn't have bathrooms, according to Mr. Stam.

The facility, partly renovated in 1994, also has a gymnasium and pool.

The purchase price for the Fulton facility wasn't disclosed, but it was "far less" than the $19.7 million asking price, according to retired psychiatrist Daniel Marrin, one of the former property owners.

Brookwood LLC, led by Mr. Marrin, 70, and former dentist Jim Berger, 77, sold the hospital plus about 6.5 acres of vacant land along Fulton to the new ownership.

Preston Smith of Orion Partners brokered the sale.

About $100,000 was spent in the past few years on plans for a new, expansion clinic for Southwest Community Health Center on the vacant Fulton land. However, Southwest last month entered a preliminary agreement to purchase an existing office building in the Fountaingrove area of the city.

Still ongoing is a lawsuit between Brookwood and St. Joseph Health System – Sonoma County, which operates Memorial, related to stopping services at its properties. At issue is whether permission of the property owners was needed beforehand.

Earlier last month, Brookwood sold its 60-bed acute care Sotoyome facility to St. Joseph Health. Memorial offered pain-management care there from 2000 until early 2008.

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