Smooth transition as Sutter shuts one Santa Rosa hospital, opens another

Skyla and Freddy Williams were not 16 hours old and already had lived in two places, 4 miles apart. The adorable, healthy twins, born by Caesarean section to Serina Williams and Chris Jeffries of Lower Lake, were delivered just before 5 p.m. Friday night at Sutter Medical Center’s Chanate Road campus.

By 8 a.m. Saturday , the day the 78-year-old hospital closed, mom, dad and newborns were loaded into two ambulances for the short ride to Sutter’s brand new $292 million hospital off Highway 101 next to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts north of Santa Rosa.

The Williams twins were among the last babies born at the facility formerly called Community Hospital and run by Sonoma County, and they were the first patients at Sutter’s new Mark West Springs Road location. Serina Williams said the move, less than a day after surgery, was smooth.

“It went very good,” she said. “We talked to our doctor about the move and the dilemma, and we thought we might do (the C-section) tomorrow. But baby girl was ready to come out.”

As the new hospital opened Saturday morning, a fleet of 14 ambulances began shuttling the 52 patients from the old campus, a move that has been carefully choreographed for 2½ years and cost $7 million to pull off. Hospital employees staffed a command center and monitored the transfer of patients, just like they practiced in the months leading up to the move.

Sutter’s license only allows it to operate one hospital in Santa Rosa, requiring the carefully coordinated, quickly executed transition that had one facility being shut down as the other came online.

There were no hitches with the move, hospital staff reported, and an early morning rain did not dampen the spirits of the 800 employees involved in the monumental shift to the first new hospital built from scratch in Sonoma County in a quarter-century.

“It is unbelievable how smooth it is going,” said Rick Barker, plant operations director. “It’s a big deal to move a hospital.”

Susan Avant, a nurse who has worked at the Chanate hospital for 30 years, said she became emotional on the ambulance ride over to the new facility.

“I cried coming down the stairway this morning,” she said. “All the memories, the smells. I had a sick feeling coming down the hill saying goodbye to Chanate.”

Large signs draped over the entrance to the Chanate Road campus announced that the hospital was closed and directed patients to the new medical center. Hospital staff had all of the patients moved into the new facility by Saturday afternoon.

Sutter will spend the next month decommissioning the old hospital before turning the keys back over to the county, which built the original Community Hospital in 1937. Sutter took over the facility in 1996, agreeing to contract with the county through 2016 to provide an array of health care services, including indigent care, medical services for jail inmates and reproductive services for women, including abortion.

The aging campus required costly seismic retrofitting, and in 2008, Sutter announced plans to build a 183,000-square-foot hospital with 40 general medical surgical beds, 20 obstetrical surgical beds, 12 intensive care unit beds, 12 neonatal intensive care beds, 10 labor, delivery and recovery beds, a 24-bed observation care unit and a 12-bay emergency department equipped with three rapid care stations for treating patients whose injuries are not severe.

The last patient at the Chanate hospital was also the last baby born there, a 10-pound boy delivered just before 1 p.m. Two hours later, the new family was moved to the new hospital, and the old facility closed permanently.

After all of the patients left the old building Saturday, Suzette Barker’s job was to announce over the intercom that the hospital was closed and turn out the lights.

It was an especially poignant task for Barker, who was born at the hospital 28 years ago.

“There is a lot of history at this hospital,” she said. “It’s definitely sad to see this building empty.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 ?or

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