Healthcare: Work starts on $284 million Santa Rosa Sutter hospital


It isn’t every day, nor even every decade, that Santa Rosa gets a new hospital.

True, local hospitals recently have undergone significant expansions, but it’s been 20 years since a new hospital has been built from the ground up.

In the coming months, motorists on Highway 101 will see an imposing array of bulldozers, excavators and other earth movers on the northern end of Santa Rosa.

In a field of overgrown thistle bounded by the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Mark West Springs Road and Highway 101, hard-hat crews will begin construction on a $284 million hospital that will replace Sutter Health’s aging medical campus on Chanate Road.

It will become the second most expensive construction project in Sonoma County history, exceeded only by the $312 million Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1983.

A 10-foot high mound of earth covering the footprint of the hospital will be the first visible hint of something to come. The mound will compress the soil in preparation for the foundation and, ultimately, the hospital walls that will rise in the fall of 2011.

The hospital is scheduled to open in the fall 2014.

“This is a once-in-every-60-to-70-year occurrence — because (hospitals) last that long,” said Tom Minard, Sutter’s project manager for construction of the new hospital.

On Monday, Sutter officials and local public health officials held a ground-breaking ceremony. Sutter officials said the new hospital will create an estimated 1,500 jobs during the planning, design and construction phases of the project.

The Sacramento-based health care provider has spent more than $3 million on design, environmental review and the permit process, officials said.

The old medical center, formerly a county-run facility known as Community Hospital, was built in 1970 and was itself a replacement of the Sonoma County Hospital built in 1937. Sutter Health, which took over operation of the county medical center in 1996, currently uses the older structure for administration offices.

The terms of the Sutter takeover of the county’s medical obligations are spelled out in the county’s Health Care Access Agreement, which requires Sutter to provide certain public medical services until 2021. These include charity medical care, cardiac services, operation of the family residency program, Medi-Cal patient access and pediatric inpatient services.

The medical center’s reputation as a facility for the poor dates back to the original county hospital built on the north west corner of Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue in 1859.

That legacy, played out in an aging facility and aggravated by ever-shrinking pool insured patients, has somewhat undermined Sutter Health’s attempts for financial stability at the Chanate Road medical campus.

The structure that will rise next to the Wells Fargo Center will do much to change that image, hospital officials said.

“It’s bricks and mortar that will match the quality of care that’s now being provided at Sutter Medical Center,” said Sutter spokeswoman Lisa Amador.

The 183,000-square foot, two-story hospital will include 82 licensed beds. The hospital also will include a 24-station “Universal Care Unit” that Sutter officials say will increase patient capacity in surgical and emergency departments.

The 82 beds include 40 for medical/surgical units, 10 in intensive care, 20 for perinatal, 10 for labor delivery/recovery and 12 in the neonatal intensive care unit. The hospital will also have 12 emergency department bays and ancillary services that include five operating rooms, one endoscopy procedure room, two C-section rooms, one permanent MRI room and three cardiac catheter labs.

A helipad will be located between Highway 101 and the southwest corner of the hospital, just a few yards from the northbound Highway 101 off-ramp.

The 10-foot mound of dirt that will appear at the construction site will compress the ground where the building will sit. Minard said the use of “surcharge compression” will avoid the need for driving 750 piles at the site.

Major site improvements are planned in the area, including addition of a right-turn lane from the 101 off-ramp to Mark West Springs Road. An ambulance entrance will be built less than 50 feet east of the off-ramp intersection on Mark West Springs Road.

The stretch of Mark West Springs Road between the 101 and Old Redwood Highway will be transformed into a four-lane road with major sidewalk improvements. All of the widening will occur on the southern side of the road, Minard said.

The intersection of Mark West Springs Road and Old Redwood Highway also will be modified, said Minard, with the addition of left-turn lanes, increased “vehicle stacking” for turn lanes, new curbs, sidewalks and lighting.

“We’re excited,” said Heather Rosaschi, a manager of the Bad Ass Coffee shop at the nearby Mark West Center. “We think it’s going to do a lot for business. We also have schools here and the kids are going to be able to walk a lot safer.”

Plans for a new hospital were about a decade in the making and not without setbacks. In January 2007, Sutter announced was dropping plans to build a new hospital and intended transfer it’s obligation under the health care access agreement to Joseph Health System, which runs Memorial Hospital. The plan generated strong opposition from the public and county supervisors.

Two years later, Sutter offered another hospital construction proposal, albeit for a smaller facility. Critics questioned whether the hospital was big enough to meet Sutter’s county obligation. Some raised concerns about the location, contending it was too far from the city’s center.

In late August, the Board of Supervisors approved the plan, giving the green light to Monday’s ground-breaking.

Dr. Patrick Coleman, director of interventional cardiology at the Sutter Medical Heart and Vascular Center, said last week that the new hospital “is a chance to continue and build upon the excellent care that we’re already providing at the current Sutter facility.”

He said that cardiac and surgical labs at the current site are new, but the patient care rooms were built in 1970.

“There were challenges that had to be overcome,” he said.

Plans for the later development of a $30 million medical office building adjacent to the new hospital.


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