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Santa Rosa Community Health reopens Fountaingrove clinic lost in 2017 Tubbs Fire

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‘From the ashes, we will rise.” If you live, work or travel through Santa Rosa, you’ve likely seen that phrase, one that remains closely held within the city most traumatized by the October 2017 Northern California wildfires.

Now, the latest sign of renewal is about to reveal itself.

On Monday, Aug. 19, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers will welcome patients to its newly rebuilt Vista campus, located on the original site at 3569 Round Barn Circle. Vista was the only health care operation in Santa Rosa completely obliterated in the Tubbs Fire.

An official grand opening is set for 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, exactly two years since the fires.

“We’ve called this journey ‘Vista Rising,’” said CEO Naomi Fuchs. “It’s a bittersweet and symbolic time.”

THE REBUILD

The Vista campus cost $19 million to rebuild, Fuchs said. About $16 million was covered by insurance; the remaining $3 million is being raised through a capital campaign that so far has brought in about $1 million, Fuchs said, adding that anyone interested in contributing can learn more at srhealth.org/donate.

The new facility will remain at 42,000 square feet, but reconfigurations have been made within the walls for improved efficiencies, including two additional exam rooms, bringing the total to 58.

“We created a lot more meeting rooms and staff lounges … and wanted to make it easier for patients to navigate through the building,” said Gaby Bernal Leroi, SRCH chief operating officer. She also has been site director of the Vista campus since it first opened in 2010, and was one of the leads on the building’s redesign.

The pharmacy is now on the first floor, and there are more blood-draw stations and reception windows, as well as additional rooms for patients to participate in group support services, Bernal Leroi said.

Vista’s rebuilding crew included Wright Contracting and Hugh Futrell Corp., both headquartered in Santa Rosa. Architectural firm Lionakis designed the original Vista campus and returned for the rebuild.

PATIENTS: BY THE NUMBERS

In 2016, SRCH treated 44,000 individual patients. But within six months after the fires, that number fell by 4,000, Fuchs said, adding there is no hard data to track the circumstances for each case.

Over the last 18 months, SRCH has regained about 1,500 patients of the 4,000 lost, even without the Vista campus in the mix, she said.

Part of the increase in patient numbers is attributable to the organization's caring for some of the 350 people returning to its service area following last year’s closure of the state-run Sonoma Developmental Center, which housed people with developmental disabilities.

SRCH has also seen an increase among the uninsured population, climbing in the past two years from a rate of 16% to 22%. This has resulted in more patients accessing the sliding scale to pay for care, Fuchs said.

Ultimately — and now that Vista is reopening — SRCH will have the capacity to care for 50,000 individual patients every year, Fuchs said.

THE BOTTOM LINE

SRCH has an annual budget of $66 million. But the relevant information is around revenue, Fuchs said.

“Since the fire, we delivered 14,000 fewer patient visits, which translates to a $2.5 million loss in patient visit revenue,” she said. The 14,000 number refers to how many times a patient visited, not the number of individual patients served per year.

“At the same time, we had over $2 million of increased expenses with multiple temporary locations and related costs.”

After the fires, SRHC opened two temporary locations, the Fiesta and Airway campuses, to accommodate Vista’s patients while that facility was being rebuilt. Fiesta and Airway are now closed.

The fires’ aftermath also required the elimination of 10 jobs, Fuchs said. SRCH employs a total of 500 people across its nine campuses.

“Now we’re back on track,” she said. “This year, we have a balanced budget and will be back in the black, so we’re excited about that.”

NAVIGATING THE POLITICAL CLIMATE

In addition to opening a new health center, SRCH is also dealing with the changing political climate when it comes to undocumented people. The organization has been working to spread the word that these people can get health care, without fear of being deported.

“If they’re eligible for Medi-Cal, then they are protected and they should access those benefits. But I think they feel very concerned about using any public benefits because of the political environment,” Fuchs said. “We want to reassure everybody that they’re safe in the health centers, and that they can get benefits without repercussions.”

FQHCs legally aren’t allowed to ask documentation status, and also are protected from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers entering the premises unannounced, Fuchs said.

In response to the country’s current political climate, the state’s County Medical Services Program (CMSP) in February launched a Path to Health Pilot Project that provides access to primary care for up to 25,000 undocumented adults. To qualify, they must be between the ages of 21 and 64, enrolled in an emergency-services-only Medi-Cal program and live in one of 35 CMSP counties.

SRCH so far has enrolled 200 people so will receive a percentage of reimbursements from the CMSP, which provides health coverage to uninsured, low-income and indigent adults not otherwise eligible for other publicly funded health care program.

GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

On Aug. 12, a week before opening day, the new Vista facility was buzzing with workers putting the finishing touches on the new building and employees returning for orientation. The Vista campus will be home to 160 employees, reuniting the team that was parsed out among SRCH’s other campuses following the fires, according to Fuchs.

The larger spectrum in the recovery process nearly two years after the fires continues for SRCH and its people. And now there’s a sense of newness for Vista’s employees.

“I think for some of them, their idea of going back might mean everything will be the way it was, but that never happens,” Fuchs said. “It’s going to be a new place and a new future.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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