Aging residents and health care job growth drive medical construction boom in Sonoma County
Across the street from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, nondescript physician offices and a few small shops along half a city block have been razed to make way for an $80 million medical building and parking garage.
The planned four-story medical office structure and 600-space garage along Montgomery Drive one day will help St. Joseph Health, which operates Memorial, to provide more offices for doctors and outpatient services like surgical treatments and the latest diagnostic imaging.
“You’ve got to expand beyond the hospital walls to do that,” said Todd Salnas, president of St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County.
The medical office building slated to open in early 2020 represents Sonoma County’s latest example of new construction so more health care workers can serve additional patients. Those developments include the spring opening of a $50 million Kaiser Permanente medical office building in southwest Santa Rosa and the 2014 opening of a $292 million Sutter Health hospital and medical office complex in north Santa Rosa.
The medical building spurt comes as health care enterprises have become the county’s largest employer, with nearly 35,000 workers, or about 15 percent of the local workforce. Health care employment has outpaced the rest of the county economy in recent years, and the sector is expected to remain the fastest- growing here over the next four years, according to recent studies by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
It wasn’t always this way. Ben Stone, the economic development board’s executive director, said for most of the last three decades the retail sector held the title as the county’s biggest employer.
He suggested two reasons for the rise of health care. First, the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, has resulted in the enrollment of more people in health care insurance plans in the county since 2010, increasing the need for more medical providers to serve them.
Second, Stone said, is “the aging of the population.”
The number of county residents 65 and older increased by 10 percent from 2014 to 2016, a bigger jump than in California or the country. Those older residents will increase demand “for home health care services, nursing and residential care and traditional outpatient facilities,” according to a June report for Sonoma County by Moody’s Analytics.
Santa Rosa is home to the three largest of the county’s seven hospitals.
In 1997, Sutter Health took over operations of the city’s oldest institution, the former county-run Community Hospital, which goes back to the 1860s. The Community Hospital complex, built mostly between the 1930s and 1970s, closed on Chanate Road in 2014. That year, Sutter opened its 116-bed hospital and an 80,000-square-foot medical office building on Mark West Springs Road.
The second hospital to open, Santa Rosa Memorial, began operating on New Year’s Day in 1950. Since then, the hospital has added two four-story wings, a new emergency room and in 2008 a $57 million cardiac and vascular treatment center.
St. Joseph Health operates five hospitals on the North Coast, including Memorial and Petaluma Valley Hospital, the latter a publicly owned facility.
Santa Rosa’s third hospital operator, Kaiser Permanente, built its first medical office building in the city on Bicentennial Way in 1981. In 1990, Kaiser opened an adjacent four-story hospital covering 160,000 square feet of space. In 2010, it completed a five-story hospital tower next door with an additional 146,000 square feet.