A day after the Palm Drive Hospital board approved plans to eliminate inpatient and emergency services, the local community — from business leaders to health care professionals to the police chief — is grappling with the broader impact of losing the only Sonoma County hospital west of Highway 101.
The closure of Palm Drive, which was projected to spend $34.3 million in the current fiscal year, will likely be a financial blow to Sebastopol, said Kenyon Webster, the city's planning director.
"It is one of the largest employers in Sebastopol — other businesses, doctors offices, nurses, testing labs have relationships and businesses that derive from the hospital," Webster said.
The hospital, which employs 242 people, allocated $18 million for labor costs and $2.8 million on professional medical fees. It was poised to spend an additional $9.7 million on services and supplies this year.
On Monday, the Palm Drive Health Care District moved to eliminate the hospital's acute inpatient services and shutter the emergency department by April 28. The hospital filed bankruptcy to gain relief from its creditors — vendors the hospital has not paid for some time.
Hospital officials say Palm Drive could no longer survive as an acute inpatient facility because of dramatic declines in overnight hospital stays and decreasing payments from government and private insurers.
The hospital board said it hopes to shed money-losing inpatient care and expensive medical services and replace it with a more financially sustainable model, possibly as an urgent care center with outpatient and some lucrative inpatient surgery.
Local doctors are pushing for a speedy transition before the hospital closes. Palm Drive officials said Monday that inpatient services are scheduled to close April 21 and the emergency department is expected to close April 28.
Teresa Ramondo, executive director and CEO of the Sebastopol Area Chamber of Commerce, said the closure will impact the community beyond patients and medical providers.
"It is that trickle-down effect," Ramondo said of both direct and collateral job losses. "Where will they go for lunch? Where will they spend their dollars?"
Ramondo and Webster both said they were concerned about the possible loss of doctors and specialists who rent offices near Palm Drive and work closely with the hospital.
"What becomes of those empty spaces?" she said. "It's not just about not having the medical care, but the economics of what happens when people of that magnitude take their jobs somewhere else."
During Monday's meeting, members of the public repeated an ominous refrain — that people will die if Palm Drive closes.
Don Spradlin, development director for the Palm Drive Health Care Foundation, said Tuesday that west county residents would be forced to drive to Santa Rosa hospitals if the facility loses its emergency room.
"I personally have friends that would have died if they had to drive an extra 15 or 20 minutes," he said.
In a survey conducted by the foundation, donors listed the emergency room as the most important service at the hospital, Spradlin said. The foundation is still trying to keep the hospital from fully closing, he said.
Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said Tuesday that closing Palm Drive would likely force Sebastopol police officers to spend more time transporting suspects and jail inmates to hospitals in Santa Rosa.
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