Sebastopol hospital reopens as Sonoma West Medical Center

Outside of the Sebastopol medical campus Friday, hundreds of supporters and hospital employees gathered to mark the moment, which came 18 months after the former Palm Drive Hospital closed.|

Sonoma West Medical Center and its emergency room in Sebastopol opened for business Friday, a long-awaited step that brought to an end an 18-month fight to reopen the community hospital in west Sonoma County.

Hundreds of supporters and hospital employees gathered outside the Petaluma Avenue medical campus to mark the moment, with many cutting pieces of a ceremonial ribbon before the doors officially opened.

“This is an amazing day,” said Dan Smith, chairman of the medical center’s board. “We’ve worked very hard to get here. This is the beginning of a long journey.”

Official word of the opening was broadcast over emergency airwaves at 10:02 a.m. With a flourish, registered nurse Mary ?Maki-Rich yanked off a “closed” sign from the marquee in front of the building and Smith attached a temporary banner announcing the reopening.

Supporters toasted the occasion with flutes of sparkling wine.

“This is absolutely fabulous,” said Susan Moulton, a retired college professor who was among dozens of volunteers working to get the facility open. “It’s going to save lives. I’m so excited.”

The institution formerly known as Palm Drive Hospital was closed in April 2014 after its second bankruptcy filing, a move that was strongly opposed by some members of the hospital’s foundation. Ultimately, declining revenues made it impossible to continue operations.

The push to reopen the hospital began almost immediately, led in part by Smith, a software millionaire whose investments into a retooled hospital were central to its rebirth.

The 50,000-square-foot hospital has undergone an $8 million renovation since it closed, Smith said. The 25-bed acute care facility features a 24-hour emergency room and a state-of-the art operating room. It has 180 employees.

Smith led a tour of the facility Friday, showing off its gleaming new emergency and operating rooms, private patient rooms and state-of-the-art technology. Among the gadgets is a robot operated by physicians remotely that travels the halls, providing an interface with patients.

“We’ve really transformed this hospital,” Smith said as he strolled a corridor.

He answered skeptics who predicted the hospital would fall into financial hard times again, saying a new focus on specialized surgery coupled with a countywide shortage of bed space would keep revenue flowing at Sonoma West. Smith said other hospitals in the region have been sending patients to other counties.

“These beds are needed,” Smith said.

On Friday morning, the hospital had served its first patient, a volunteer who had scheduled a blood test ahead of time. As of Friday night, the emergency room had 11 visits, three of whom were admitted to the hospital, spokeswoman Jane Rogan said. A number of others came to the hospital for lab or diagnostic work.

Smith said staff expected it to take several days for all the area’s ambulance companies to adjust to the hospital’s reopening.

Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter said the opening was important not only to bring a medical facility to the west county but also because it offers high-quality jobs for area residents.

“It’s an important part of our local economy,” said Slayter, standing among the throngs outside the hospital. “The fact that they were able to reopen is remarkable.”

You can reach Staff Writer ?Paul Payne at 568-5312 or ? On Twitter @ppayne.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to accurately reflect the net worth of Dan Smith, the entrepreneur and philanthropist who is chairman of the board for Sonoma West Medical Center.

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