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Former Palm Drive Hospital poised to reopen as Sonoma West Medical Center

Following an inspection at the end of the month, the former Palm Drive Hospital should open in August with a new name.|

In a newly remodeled patient waiting room, about a dozen nurses, doctors and other medical staff listen attentively as MaryAnn Mahoney details new processes and procedures for treating patients at Sonoma West Medical Center, which is expected to open in early August.

Using “flow mapping” techniques, the emergency department nurse guides the team through procedures for nursing registration, laboratory policies, language interpretation, radiology and other services.

“We’re a whole new animal,” Mahoney said.

Elsewhere in the hospital, staff are testing medical equipment and conducting numerous patient drills and mock hospital scenarios. It’s a major cram session aimed at getting every aspect of the facility in order, including the new electronic medical records system, the healthier food menu, personnel staffing and admissions procedures.

“We need to get it right, obviously, because the No. 1 priority is safe patient care,” said Raymond Hino, CEO of the Sonoma West Medical Center. “It has to be safe patient care from the very first patient that walks in the door.”

Construction projects at the medical center, formerly known as Palm Drive Hospital, were approved and certified by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development on July 6. That approval allowed the hospital to schedule a final survey by staff at the state Department of Public Health.

Public Health staff are scheduled to visit the hospital on July 27 and 28, so the hospital has until then to prepare.

Hino said state officials are likely to find some things wrong, but nothing major. Major deficiencies, he said, would include not having adequate staff, or major equipment not being operational or present in the facility.

“I’m not anticipating there will be any deficiencies that will prevent us from reopening the hospital,” Hino said.

The retooling of Palm Drive was spearheaded by the Sonoma West Medical Foundation, previously called the Palm Drive Health Care Foundation. The new facility is expected to be a 25-bed acute care hospital with a bevy of specialty medical institutes that would help cover the cost of inpatient services and a new emergency room.

Palm Drive officially closed its doors in April 2014, after filing its second bankruptcy since 2007. Hospital officials cited crippling competition from Santa Rosa hospitals, especially Kaiser Permanente. They said the competition was resulting in fewer overnight patient stays and also cited reduced health plan payments as a factor in the closure.

The new hospital includes 20 medical surgical beds and five intensive care unit beds. With the exception of two rooms used for observation, all hospital rooms are single-bed, private rooms.

Earlier this week, nursing staff were hard at work in various hospital departments. Some of the staff had returned after more than a year away from the facility.

Thelma Collins, a part-time ICU nurse who first came to Palm Drive Hospital 10 years ago, said she was happy and relieved to be back. She joked about missing the view of the trees and landscaping from the windows in the ICU.

“When the hospital closed, it was depressing; we missed everybody,” she said. “But we knew it would reopen one day.”

In the hospital’s newly remodeled laboratory, clinical laboratory scientist Becky Estreich watches over the facility’s “newest biggest baby,” the Vitros 5600 integrated chemical analyzer, as it hums and whirs, almost lifelike, through a series of testing procedures.

From a single tube of blood, the device can help detect prostate cancer, diabetes, folate deficiencies and thyroid disease. It can also be used in pregnancy evaluations.

The machine itself cost $130,000, though the real expense will be in purchasing the test slides and chemical reagents it uses to perform tests, said Dan Smith, chairman of the Sonoma West Medical Center and a longtime Palm Drive Hospital benefactor who has donated millions of dollars of his own money to get the hospital reopened.

“It’s like an HP printer; the real cost is in reagents and slides,” he said. “Even so, it will cost half a million less a year to run this than to be running older technology.”

Smith said he and his wife also made a “forgivable loan” of $400,000 to the hospital for the purchase of medical and computer equipment, including a $175,000 3-D mammography imaging system that previously was being leased by the hospital.

“These things take enormous amounts of money,” he said.

Hino said once the hospital gets approved by state public health officials, the state pharmacy board must issue a pharmacy license that will then allow the facility to order and stock all its necessary drugs.

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg scenario,” he said. “In order to have a licensed hospital you have to have a pharmacy, and conversely, in order to have a licensed pharmacy you have to have a hospital.”

It will take about two days from the time the hospital is licensed to stock the facility with pharmaceuticals, he said.

After that, he said, “we can open as soon as the drugs are on the shelves.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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