WatchSonoma Watch

Study: Proposed Sutter hospital meets Sonoma County’s needs


Despite a potential shortage of beds, a proposed new Sutter Health hospital north of Santa Rosa meets the requirements of a health services contract with the county, a final report by county officials says.

The new hospital would provide better or equal access to health services and quality of care than the existing facility on Chanate Road, which Sutter took over from the county in 1996, the report concludes.

But emergency and intensive care, and general medical and surgical services in the new hospital could be short by as many as 35 beds by 2021, when the county’s contract with Sutter for the provision of publicly required medical services expires, according to one projection in the report.

County and Sutter officials said they don’t expect that to happen.

Sutter Medical Center on Chanate Road

An expected drop in hospital visits and growth in both primary care and community health clinic services, all driven by the recent federal health care overhaul, and other changes, should make the proposed number of beds sufficient, officials said.

“We wouldn’t be making the recommendation if we didn’t think these mitigations were adequate for us to support the proposal,” said Rita Scardaci, the county’s health services director.

Sutter officials also point out that they have the ability to expand by up to 27 beds, a move that would address most of the shortage identified in the report. Until 2021, county officials could also require such a step if they saw the hospital failing to meet its obligations, Sutter officials said.

“We’re going to make it bigger if we have to,” said Mike Cohill, vice president of Sutter Health. “(But) I feel very confident about the size of the hospital and our ability to manage our way through any problems that might arise.”

The 62-page report, issued late Friday, adds further momentum to Sutter’s plans to build a $284 million, 82-bed facility off Mark West Springs Road, just north of the Wells Fargo Center.

The Board of Supervisors tentatively approved the proposal last week in a hearing focused on land-use issues. A board hearing on the health services contract is set for Aug. 17. A final vote is scheduled for Aug.24.

In previous public meetings on the proposal, some local health care professionals expressed worries about the potential bed shortage. A lack of intensive-care beds was of particular concern.

The hospital could be short three intensive-care beds by its proposed opening date, in 2014, and down an additional bed by 2021, the county report showed.

County and Sutter officials acknowledged that some intensive-care patients affected by any shortage would have to be transferred to other hospitals.

“I think that’s a legitimate concern,” said Daymon Doss, chief executive of Petaluma Health Care District, which oversees Petaluma Valley Hospital. Available beds and properly trained staff are in short supply for such patients, he added. “You don’t just move critically ill patients around that way.”

Cohill, the Sutter vice president, said the hospital expects to use 24 universal care beds — meant for outpatient recovery or stays of less than 24 hours — to help with some overflow. On the possible transfer of intensive-care patients, he said, “If it does happen, it’s not going to happen frequently.”

Sutter is alone among local hospital operators in reducing the size of its bed count. Both Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, the area’s largest hospitals, have increased their capacity in recent years.

Sutter officials say the capacity of the new facility — down a total of 28 beds from the Chanate hospital — and improved technology and layout will help keep health care costs down, another requirement of the county contract.

The Chanate campus, parts of which date back to 1931, “is the Winchester House of hospitals,” Cohill said. “It has very few of the modern systems that permit a hospital to be efficient.”

The new hospital will operate with fewer employees per occupied bed, keeping labor costs down, and will allow Sutter to focus on outpatient care, a growing medical trend, Cohill said.

“I can’t predict what Sutter is going to do in 2021,” when its contract with the county expires, he said. “But you do not walk away from a $300 million investment. We have every intention that this will be a successful venture.”

Leave a Reply