Cloverdale’s planned $40 million community health center is ‘a long time coming’

After nearly a decade of planning, Cloverdale is on the verge of undergoing a major facilities expansion, one that could significantly transform the health care landscape north of Healdsburg.|

For years, residents of Cloverdale and surrounding rural communities have watched nearly every other city and town in Sonoma County receive brand new state-of-the-art health care facilities.

The latest being Guerneville, which saw the grand opening of West County Health Centers’ $15 million Russian River Health Center last summer. It was the latest in a decades-long construction boom of federally supported community clinics that has played a key role in providing primary medical, dental and mental health services across the region.

Except in north Sonoma County.

For years, Alexander Valley Healthcare — an undisputed oasis in a medical desert that has continually plagued northern reaches of the county — has had to make due with aging, cramped facilities at three different downtown Cloverdale sites.

That has led to longer wait times for those seeking medical care, as well as unnecessary visits to local emergency rooms to the north and south, said Kirsten Tellez, Alexander Valley Healthcare’s development director.

Now, after nearly a decade of planning, Cloverdale is on the verge of undergoing its own major facilities expansion, one that could significantly transform the health care landscape north of Healdsburg.

With the recent $1.5 million purchase of a 2.8-acre site at S. Cloverdale Boulelvard and Citrus Fair Drive, Alexander Valley Healthcare is moving forward with plans to build a three-story, roughly 40,000-square-foot medical facility that will cost an estimated $40 million to build and equip.

“There’s nobody who doesn’t see the need for this in our region,” Tellez said.

Debbie Howell, Alexander Valley Healthcare’s CEO, said current leased space is bursting at the seams and wholly inadequate for serving the provider’s 5,000 patients. Many of these patients come from the health center’s service area, which includes Cloverdale, Geyserville and Hopland.

But Howell said the new facility is likely to draw more patients from places like Lower Lake, Lucerne, the southern portion of Mendocino County and even central Sonoma County.

Once the facility is being operated at maximum capacity, “we will be able to serve 16,000 patients,” Howell said.

A county satellite

Alexander Valley Healthcare currently occupies three leased buildings. These include a dental clinic at Third Street and N. Cloverdale Boulevard; the main medical clinic at Tarman Drive, off S. Cloverdale Boulevard; and administrative offices on E. First Street and N. Cloverdale Boulevard.

“That’s why this is so exciting, to be able to put us all under one roof and integrate services,” said Tellez.

The new building, located next to the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds, will be LEED certified for energy efficiency and designed with a focus on “health and wellness, with plenty of natural light and open spaces,” Tellez said.

The administration and dental offices will occupy the top floor, while medical and behavioral health services will be offered on the second floor. The first floor will house new services not currently offered, such as an expanded lab, urgent care and a pharmacy.

The first floor will also offer leased space to private medical providers who can provide specialty services not currently available in the area, such as podiatry, physical therapy and chiropractic care.

The goal is to attract specialty physicians who can provide services "whether it’s just one or two days,“ Tellez said.

The health center is also partnering with county health and human services to occupy space on the first floor. That leased space will be part of the county’s growing satellite services, said Supervisor James Gore, who represents much of north Sonoma County.

Gore said officials began planning to locate satellite services in Cloverdale eight or nine years ago, but the cost of setting something up at that time was too prohibitive.

“This is a long time coming,” he said.

Tina Rivera, director of the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, called the project a “game-changer for the Cloverdale area.”

She said patients and clients will no longer have to travel long distances to receive services, as transportation has been an issue for many underserved residents in north Sonoma County.

Rivera said her department currently has a nurse traveling to the area, providing medication support, assessments and vital statistics, especially to those who are homebound. The county also provides tele-psychiatry services, and two mental health caseworkers who do frequent field visits.

The partnership with Alexander Valley will allow county health services to move these staff into space on the first floor, she said.

“We will also have an opportunity to expand our capacity in serving the Cloverdale community,” Rivera said.

County services that are planned include “walk-in” mental health and substance use disorder services; peer support services; and women, infant and children support services and benefits.

Rivera said the county is also in the preliminary stages of exploring the possibility of locating vaccination services at the new location.

Key puzzle piece

It’s been a decade since Alexander Valley Healthcare was declared a Federally Qualified Health Center, a crucial designation that comes with an enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

While other so-called FQHCs in Sonoma County and across the country saw dramatic explosions in new clinic construction — fueled by tens of billions of dollars in Affordable Care Act funds — Cloverdale seemed to be continually left behind.

Still, the clinic is a lifeline for many residents in Cloverdale and surrounding rural communities. A reflection of that is found in the health center’s patient population.

Tellez said 39.7% of the health center’s patients are covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program. Another 15.8% are covered by Medicare and 17.5% are uninsured.

A significant share of patients, 26.9%, have private insurance, though often they are underinsured.

As with the new facilities that have been built over the years by Santa Rosa Community Health, West County Health Centers and the Petaluma Health Center, the new community clinic in Cloverdale will likely rival the primary care offerings of health care giants like Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Providence.

But it won’t come cheap.

Tellez said Alexander Valley Healthcare is in the process of putting together a tax-exempt bond to finance the project. The provider is also in the initial stages of launching a $5 million capital campaign and is “quietly” seeking big donors to kick-start the donations, she said.

“There will be no tax assessment for this,” she added.

Howell said she’s thrilled her medical staff and their patients will finally get the medical facilities they deserve.

“Now we will have a quality facility to match the quality of care that we deliver,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @pressreno.

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