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Sutter Health unveils its new expansion tower at Santa Rosa regional hospital

Standing outside Sutter Health’s new 60,000-square-foot hospital expansion tower at its regional hospital in north Santa Rosa, CEO Dan Peterson proudly points out that the new addition was “born and raised during the pandemic.”

“I started here in the beginning of 2020, and they had just started prepping the ground out there,” Peterson said Tuesday, during a tour of the three-story structure, which seamlessly sits on the east end of the hospital that was built eight years ago and was originally 184,000 square feet.

Matthew Boersma, senior project manager of HerreroBoldt, the joint construction management and contractor partnership that built the tower, said many large construction projects were put on hold because of the pandemic. The expansion at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital kept going through the historic crisis, he said.

“I would estimate probably an average of 90 to 100 people employed for at least two years,” Boersma said. “That doesn’t go into the vendors and the suppliers and the drivers, all those other jobs that help see that a big project like this continue during such a downturn.”

The original 84-bed hospital, completed in 2014, cost $284 million to build, and continued to operate during construction, which broke ground in late summer 2019, months before COVID-19 would bring economies everywhere to a near standstill.

At the time, the new tower was expected to be completed in September of this year. During the tour Tuesday, hospital and construction officials said despite the pandemic the project hit all its scheduled targets. The new tower is expected to be open to patients on May 3.

“We are really glad that the project is proceeding on or slightly under budget and on time, despite some incredible obstacles over the last few years that you’ve seen in every industry,” Peterson said.

The new tower is the first phase of a major expansion and renovation project at the local Sutter facility. The second phase, an expansion of the emergency department, is expected to be completed later this year.

When construction is completed, the hospital will have gained 40 additional all-private patient rooms; two additional operating rooms; one additional endoscopy room; 13 additional outpatient care unit beds; 11 additional post-acute care unit bays; and nine additional emergency department bays.

Since the hospital was built, it has become clear that the facility’s existing footprint was simply too small. During the pandemic, local county supervisors at times pointed out the need for more bed capacity.

During the pandemic, the lack of hospital bed space was cited as one of the reasons Sonoma County imposed more rigorous COVID-19 restrictions than other Bay Area counties.

Peterson said the construction of hospitals takes many years to plan and execute, making it difficult to precisely predict future capacity needs.

It’s impossible to predict “exactly how much space is needed,” Peterson said. “For example, a hospital project like the original hospital, that was planned five or 10 years in advance.”

During the tour, hospital officials showcased some of the new facility’s more novel features. This includes two additional “bioswales” that channel runoff water into landscaped areas for collection and natural filtering before entering the storm drain system; Wi-Fi clocks to keep accurate time; and spacious, all-private patient rooms with beds capable of constantly monitoring heart rate and respiration.

Also, every room has a dedicated patient lift in the ceiling, and the bathroom doors are capable of opening both ways to facilitate staff and patient entry. Boersma said construction management teams worked closely with hospital officials and staff, seeking input on features they would like to see in the new facility.

Peterson said that while the tower’s construction is nearly complete, the next four weeks will involve preparation, planning and training before the tower can be opened to patients on May 3. Some 1,000 hospital workers will need to be oriented and trained for the new facility, and the hospital is looking to hire for 150 new positions, though many of those jobs are expected to be filled internally, he said.

“It’s a big lift, and I don’t expect to have every one of those positions filled on May 3,” he said. “There will be a ramp-up process.”

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

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