According to a recent article in SoCoNews, two local doctors will open a new “Sebastopol Urgent Care” center on Aug. 23, in a renovated building just north of the former Palm Drive Hospital. Beginning their efforts just four months ago, the doctors plan to offer seven days/week service to walk-in patients.
Unfortunately, the welcome news is also a slap in the face of west county taxpayers who helped subsidize the former urgent care center at Sonoma Specialty Hospital (“SSH,” formerly Palm Drive Hospital). That urgent care closed 17 months ago in March 2020, in violation of a $1.2 million promissory note given in December 2019 by SSH’s new owners as partial payment to the former Palm Drive Health Care District for the purchase of the hospital.
The closure has been followed by 17 months of false and misleading statements and assurances about the urgent care from SSH’s owners to the County of Sonoma, which inherited the district’s assets and debts when the district dissolved in August 2020. After 17 months, SSH still has been unable (or unwilling) to open an urgent care — a feat accomplished by Sebastopol Urgent Care’s doctors in only four months.
When the original urgent care closed in March 2020, SSH claimed it was to prevent outpatients from spreading COVID to its inpatients. But according to a Press Democrat article from January 2021, SSH knowingly admitted at least five COVID-positive inpatients to the hospital as early as December 2020.
The promissory note required SSH to keep open an acute care hospital with an urgent care or emergency room for 10 years after the sale, until December 2029, or else pay an additional $1.2 million plus interest for the hospital’s purchase. When pressured by the Palm Drive District and later by the county in summer 2020 to reopen the urgent care, SSH responded on Sept. 28 — only two days before the county’s deadline — that “we just recently signed a lease” on a new facility south of the hospital that would reopen after a “brief period” of ADA upgrades. The county accepted the claim at face value and requested a copy of the lease.
But the claim was false. Ignoring the county’s request, SSH wrote in October 2020 that actually it was “close to signing” a lease. Finally, five months later, after repeated prodding by myself and others led to a sterner county request in March 2021, SSH sent a copy of a lease — but it was signed in January 2021, not August 2020. At the same time, SSH emailed that “we are working on tenet [tenant] improvements.”
Again, that claim was false, but again the county accepted it. According to the City of Sebastopol, SSH didn’t even apply for a building permit to remodel a restroom in the new space until May — four months after the lease was signed and 14 months after closure. Although some inside work apparently has been done, as of Aug. 18 the space was closed up, blinds drawn. The HVAC unit behind the building is covered with debris. All of the signage from the previous tenant remains in place. There are no public announcements, website, Facebook page, ads — nothing.
According to a July SoCo News article, the county still believes that SSH “made a good faith effort and commitment to get an urgent care up and running.” The county said it feared that if it called in the $1.2 million note, “the urgent care would never be reopened.” Yet more than 17 months after closing, SSH refuses to announce when its urgent care will open — if it opens at all.
But in the meantime, Sebastopol Urgent Care will hold a grand opening celebration on Saturday, Aug. 28 — after only four months of planning and renovation and without a massive taxpayer subsidy.
So, Sonoma County — now can you please enforce the promissory note and use that $1.2 million (plus interest) to help pay down Palm Drive’s debts?