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Palm Drive Health Care District moves forward with dissolution

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The Palm Drive Healthcare District, which for nearly two decades supported operation of the only hospital in western Sonoma County, voted Monday to dissolve itself.

The unanimous decision of the district board comes just two months after it sold the hospital to Modesto-based American Advanced Management Group, AAMG, for $2 million.

Even under dissolution, residents in the district remain on the hook for paying off the district’s debt, which totals about $25 million. The annual parcel tax is $155.

“It seems like the logical thing to do — we don’t own or control a hospital,” said Dennis Colthurst, president of the district board. “The district needs to be responsible and this is the most responsible thing to do.”

The hospital district was formed after a special election in 2000 by voters in nine west county school districts that encompass roughly 200 square miles.

But the embattled hospital was at the center of two bankruptcies and a closure that spanned from early 2014 to late 2015. Its last private operator, Sonoma West Medical Center, struggled to make the facility profitable.

Last March, voters in Sebastopol, Graton, Bodega Bay, Occidental and other towns approved a ballot measure authorizing the district to unload the hospital.

AAMG has managed the site since late 2018 as a nonemergency, extended-stay care facility, going by the name Sonoma Specialty Hospital.

Former board member Jim Horn welcomed news of the district’s Monday action. Horn, who has supported dissolving the district since last April, when the board approved leasing the hospital to AAMG with the intent to sell the facility.

Once the sale closed in December, Horn said many west county residents wondered why the district still existed. Horn, who resigned from the board last May, said he and two other Sebastopol residents three weeks ago began a petition drive for a ballot measure that would, if adopted, force dissolution of the district.

The vote Monday authorizes the district’s counsel to prepare a formal dissolution plan, which the district is expected to vote on at their regular meeting in March. That plan then must be submitted to the Sonoma County Local Area Formation Commission, which regulates the boundaries of cities and special districts.

The Board has set a target date of June 30 for final dissolution of the district.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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