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Sebastopol is Passionate about Their Community Hospital
Written by John Beilharz, posted by Anya Concoff

Residents of Sebastopol and West Sonoma County are increasingly enthusiastic about their community hospital. The many positive and supportive comments coming from the folks the hospital serves is underscored by the enthusiasm of hospital healthcare providers and staff alike.

As one of the largest employers in town the quality of healthcare provided at SWMC is nothing less than exceptional. COO and Chief Nurse Executive Barbara Vogelsang says patients get personalized care here that isn’t always available at other hospitals. “This quality of care is ingrained in the staff. All of the doctors and nurses choose to work here because they are passionate about the work they do and the services they provide.” Vogelsang holds two masters degrees and has 30 years of nursing and health care experience. She is also board certified as a nursing executive. Vogelsang’s passion for the hospital combined with her high level of expertise is characteristic of the entire staff. “I could work in any city in the country but I choose to work here. That’s typical of everyone who works for SWMC.”

Melissa Horve is SWMC’s Human Resources Director. She says that SWMC truly is a hometown hospital. “Patients who come here are on a first-name basis. We recognize the family members coming in and we know their names. I know every single person I’ve hired here, and I am familiar with their families.” This sense of community is what has helped the staff weather some recent bad press recently that has misinformed the community and caused confusion about the hospital.

The Back Story

Sonoma West Medical Center re-opened in October 2015 after its predecessor Palm Drive Hospital closed in April 2014. “People still associate us with Palm Drive Hospital, but that is a misconception. SWMC is an all-new organization under new management with a new board of directors,” explains Horve. The hospital is currently owned and operated by Palm Drive Health Care District and managed by a governing board and the District Board.

As a new business, getting the hospital on-track has been a challenge. As a result, the District Board recently issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to explore the potentiality of acquiring a new investor or expanding into a partnership for the organization. This action will help to safeguard the future of the hospital and ensure that it will be available to serve the community well into the future.

“This hospital has always been known for its quality of care,” says Alanna Brogan, who is the executive director of the District. “Rural hospitals generally tend to suffer from low occupancy and struggle for adequate revenue. We are looking for a partner that can invest in the organization and help bring in more patients, more business. And the good news is that the revenue cycle has increased, although there is still a small gap in managing expenses.”

While the hospital is governed in part by the District, the hospital is an independent entity. Discussions that have cropped up in the local media recently regarding government bonds – specifically the Russian River area detachment and residential property taxes, are issues belonging to the District and do not concern the hospital. “We are technically operating separately from the District, but they help to govern the hospital. Ultimately SWMC is a District tenant and nothing more,” Vogelsang explains.

As the District only partially funds the hospital, financial solvency is crucial for ongoing stability.  “[Previously], the billing systems and electronic health records were not synchronized so they weren’t billing and collecting for the care that was provided,” she says.  “Ultimately, the problems we inherited were easy to resolve and we have overcome most of our financial problems. We have restored our revenue cycle process and have increased billing and collections by almost 100 percent. Financially, we will be fine but we need a partner who can get us closer to where we need to be.”

Shedding Light on the Controversy

The hospital got a much-needed financial boost from a toxicology program, in partnership with Insurance Carrier Anthem Blue Shield, testing urine samples. This insurance carrier has recently accused the hospital of not conducting the toxicology tests that were billed to Anthem. The truth is that the hospital had performed every single test that was charged to Anthem. The issue between Anthem and SWMC is more a communication breakdown than a case of over-billing. “Federal regulations allow rural hospitals to bill for these types of toxicology tests at a higher rate than larger hospitals. This program was put into place by the government to help support rural hospitals,” Vogelsang explains. “We did everything our contract with Anthem stipulated. All of the documentation is in order and clearly demonstrates that fact.”

A Much Brighter Future

Regardless of recent bad publicity and inaccurate reporting concerning SWMC’s outstanding debt, hospital officials expect to be breaking even soon. With the combination of a hard to beat emergency department and a recently reopened operating room that is open around the clock, SWMC is dedicated to serving a community that has fought a valiant fight to have a local choice in healthcare. “Ultimately, Sonoma West Medical Center is here to stay, and we will be serving the community of Sebastopol well into the future,” says Brogan.

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