How Petaluma Health Center would expand in 2020 from Coastal Health Alliance, mobile services

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Petaluma Health Center corporate office

1455 N. McDowell Blvd., Suite D, Petaluma 94954


Read more about other local leaders in health care in 2020.

Kathie Powell has served as the CEO of the Petaluma Health Center for 17 years and is known for her passion for ensuring everyone has access to high-quality health care.

Describe a single specific challenge your organization faced last year and why it posed such a challenge. What measures have you taken of overcome the challenge?

Our greatest challenge last year was to redesign, reorganize and rebuild both our finance and human resources departments at the same time. Having doubled in size, from 200 to over 400 employees in the previous four years, we needed a new structure in each of these departments.

We now have a world-class HR department, with a remarkable chief human resources officer, and are well on our way to have a similarly remarkable finance department, having just hired a great chief financial officer.

Both will serve us well as Coastal Health Alliance joins us in June, and we grow to 500 employees by the end of the year. This is very exciting, as combined we will provide medical, dental and behavioral health care for southern Sonoma County residents as well as the residents in west Marin County communities.

Mental health services have become a focus of health care providers in the North Bay since the series of wildfires. For your patients, what strategies have you employed to address this issue? For your employees, what are the challenges faced by your organization in addressing their post-fire needs?

The Petaluma Health Center is committed to having all of our sites open, if humanly possible, during fires (and other disasters). Our behavioral and mental health providers have received significant specialized training for treating patients affected by fires and other disasters.

During the past few years they have been available during the fires, in clinic and in shelters, to help people through these emotionally traumatic experiences. We are a close-knit family, and our providers also help our employees deal with initial emotional needs as well, including. For post-fire mental health needs, we have ensured that our employees have several options available to them, both short and long term.

What obstacles are policy and politics putting in the way of providing quality health care? How much do these challenge your organization’s ability to serve patients?

Health care policy and politics usually cause the most problems by dictating or threatening to dictate what clinical services are paid for by government, now non-governmental health care coverage.

Fifty-two percent of our patients are covered by Medi-Cal, and 11% are covered by Medicare. Each of these programs covers very specific services, diagnostics, procedures and medications, on a pre-determined timetable, and limited in scope.

Very specific providers must provide the services, or they are not “covered.” Private insurance plans are also mandated to “cover” certain services.

When services that are not “covered”, patients often go without care, or without their medications. We currently care for over 35,000 people and it takes 13 staff members to process referrals to specialists or for diagnostic services to ensure the services are “covered.”

We have half a dozen “patient navigators” who help patients work through the confusing and fragmented health care system to receive services that are “covered.”

More than 20 employees are involved in billing and collecting from both private and public insurers. These people must ensure that the correct documentation is in the health record to support the correct “codes” that are billed.

Petaluma Health Center corporate office

1455 N. McDowell Blvd., Suite D, Petaluma 94954


Read more about other local leaders in health care in 2020.

And it costs us more than $250K per year in physician time to ensure that documentation matches the needs of the insurer. In all, almost 10% of our $50M budget can be tied to compliance with regulatory agencies that starts at the policy and political level.

What specific accomplishment of your organization in the past year or so do you wish to highlight, and why?

One of our greatest accomplishments last year was completing the due diligence for our merger (acquisition) of the Coastal Health Alliance, the federally qualified health center (FQHC) in Point Reyes and Bolinas. This was evidenced when the board of directors of each entity felt comfortable enough to approve the merger agreement, reflecting a high level of trust that our health centers will “become one”- a larger organization that will provide access, and the highest quality of medical, mental/behavioral health and dental care, to over 40,000 residents in our combined communities.

We continue to work tirelessly to ensure that everyone from Coastal Health Alliance and its communities trust that the leadership and governance of the Petaluma Health Center will provide the same high level of care and commitment to the health care needs of West Marin. FQHCs are very highly regulated and we are currently going through the six-month federal review process that will hopefully culminate in an approval prior to June 30th, 2020.

Tell us one person or situation connected to your organization inspired you in the past year and why it was so memorable.

Elad Levinson, one of our long-time board members, published the book, “Inspire Me”, this year, and I read it.

And I keep reading it over and over, because it is uplifting and inspiring. When I read it, I remember what I need to do to continue to be inspired myself, and what I need to do to continually inspire those around me. Many, many thanks to Elad for breaking down the concept of “inspiration” so simply and explaining what conditions foster inspiration, and how each of us can be inspired as much as we want to be inspired.

I am reminded that the Petaluma Health Center has a national reputation for innovation which is fostered by inspiration, and now I understand why. We foster an environment in which people can feel free to be inspired, and free to be themselves. We appreciate all people, diversity, and celebrate diversity of opinion. We ask questions and we listen. We appreciate each other and our patients. We provide an environment in which our employees and our patients feel safe to express themselves.

And for so many various reasons, our employees are inspired and they innovate ways to improve our broken health care system. Which is also probably the reason why we scored 100% Partnership Health Plan’s Quality Improvement Program again this year. We are inspired to provide great health care! Here is a link to Elad’s book:

What your two of your organization’s biggest goals for 2020?

1. Complete the merger (acquisition) with Coastal Health Alliance by receiving HRSA approval, and successfully combining the services, staffs and culture to ensure all 40,000 patients receive the great level of care for which we are already known.

2. Raise an additional $300,000 for our $700,000 dental and medical van, as soon as possible. We would like it to be ready to take to all of the schools we currently go to in the fall, to provide dental and medical services, and ensure all children have access to care.

Additionally, if we have another fire or evacuations during fire season, we would be able to take it to shelters and provide medical services to those who have been displaced from their homes.

Do you have growth plans for your organization this year, such as adding services or increasing staff?

Our main growth plan involves the merger (acquisition) of the Coastal Health Alliance, which will add about 5,000 patients. We have also recently hired a few additional medical providers, and plan to hire additional mental/behavioral health providers. By the end of 2020 we may have about 500 employees as well, up from 412 in December 2019.

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