Actor, author and new Sebastopol resident Peter Coyote brought some star power to Saturday night’s celebration of the recently opened Sonoma West Medical Center, vowing to do all he can to help the new venture succeed.
The 74-year-old counter-culture warrior, Zen practitioner, and actor in movies such as “E.T.” and “A Walk to Remember” moved to the west county in October from his longtime home in Mill Valley.
He soon became aware the former Palm Drive Hospital was reopening under new leadership and offered to help.
“When you think about it, a hospital is actually a mechanism by which a community takes care of itself,” Coyote said. “It’s not just like one good doctor. It’s not just like one rich patron. It’s a community effort.”
The actor said that unlike some of the wealthy benefactors who have helped the hospital get back on its feet, he doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to bankroll the operation. Fixing up an old farmhouse on a small orchard has just about tapped him out financially, he said.
But he said he’s helping get the word out to his adoptive home that the hospital is open for business and offering needed care. While he’s no expert in medical administration, Coyote said he’s spent enough time in medical facilities over the years to know a well-run health organization when he sees it.
In the 1960s Coyote lived in a commune in Olema, got hooked on heroin, and contracted Hepatitis C that wasn’t diagnosed until the late 1990s.
“I was at the Marin County emergency room at 3 in the morning so often that I bought the doctors a cappuccino machine because they were so great,” he said.
At Sonoma West Medical Center, he said, he was immediately impressed with interactions between Chief Executive Officer Ray Hino and the staff members. He also said he had dinner with software millionaire Dan Smith and his wife, Joan Marler, whose investments have been central to reviving and retooling the hospital, which closed in April 2014 after two bankruptcies.
Coyote came away convinced they’ve restructured the enterprise for success, but that the message needed to be spread that the hospital was not a boutique operation but a community asset.
The message wasn’t lost on the hundreds of people who turned out Saturday at the Sebastopol Community Center for local food, live music and celebration of the October opening.
Hino told the crowd that the new 25-bed hospital was doing well in part because other facilities like the new 82-bed Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital are often full.
“They’re transferring patients to us almost every day,” Hino said.
Since the end of October, the hospital has billed $8 million in services to 2,500 patients, said Jane Rogan, the hospital’s communications director.
Longtime Sebastopol resident Jonathon Lipsin recalled how 22 years ago, his then-wife was at risk of having a miscarriage when the doctors at Palm Drive got her stabilized, allowing her to give birth later to his son, Jeremy.
He said he’s a strong supporter of the city having its own hospital and feels community support should help it succeed where Palm Drive fell short.