Bringing a Community Hospital Back to Life: The Story of Sonoma West Medical Center

By Gail G. Thomas

2015-11-25-1448470979-1627584-Meeting2014.jpgThe Open Our Hospital campaign kick off, 2014

The Plumfund Story: It takes an army
When Palm Drive Hospital closed in April of 2014, after 73 years of service to residents of Sonoma County, CA, two hundred people lost their jobs, and a community lost access to life-saving services. The nearest hospitals to Palm Drive were 10 miles away, which meant driving more than 30 miles of difficult road for some West Sonoma County residents. With Palm Drive closed, patients coming from these remote areas lost precious moments in emergency transport. Particularly in cases of stroke or trauma, minutes matter.

In addition, the area took an economic hit that snowballed; the loss of hospital jobs meant a reduction in discretionary spending, which resulted in the loss of revenue for other businesses. The closure of Palm Drive Hospital also threatened the real estate market and school enrollment.

What's happened since, however, has been truly unique: our community has come together to renovate and reopen the 50,000 square foot health care center we rely on. Thousands of residents from West Sonoma County and beyond took the time to speak up and take action. Neighbors put up red and white signs reading "Open Our Hospital" all over the county to declare that they would not let their local hospital close forever.

The 19-month-long journey proved to be no small task. As the President of the Sonoma West Medical Foundation, I personally gave up my business and devoted myself full time to the effort. Millions of dollars were raised to reopen the hospital and to keep the critical service it provides open and operating. Staff and consultants worked around the clock—24 hours a day seven days a week—with no compensation and often at the expense of their personal lives, health, or financial situation. Their dedication to the health of the community was powerful—a clear sign that this effort could not fail.

On October 30, 2015, we finally re-opened the hospital doors under the name Sonoma West Medical Center. We held a celebratory ribbon-cutting to commemorate the momentous occasion. With laughter, tears, and countless hugs, staff and community members who tirelessly supported the effort saw their hard work rewarded.

To keep our new hospital alive and thriving, our foundation is hard at work on a year-end campaign and we're sharing it on Plumfund to allow donors near and far to participate. The campaign supports those who cannot afford care and provides for ground-breaking research and education. It also supports our global Telemedicine program and state-of-the-art medical complex serving West Sonoma County and beyond.

2015-11-25-1448471023-8506763-GroupPic.jpgGail (right) with medical center/foundation staff and volunteers at the hospital re-opening

Plumfund in Action: Continuing to serve the community
Within the first few weeks of opening, the Medical Center saw over 800 patients. Lives were saved, and we are hearing stories of deep gratitude from those in the community who were able to come to their newly reopened hospital, just minutes away from home. To date, our year-end campaign has raised $22,000, and each day we continue to receive new donations dedicated to ensuring the long-range sustainability for the Sonoma West Medical Center as a center of medical excellence. We are happy to have the opportunity to pay it forward and continue to serve all patients with the best possible care for decades to come.

The medical center also houses the Sonoma West Medical Foundation Research Institute (SWMFRI), designed to bring innovations in medicine to the local community. Our current focus is on neuroscience and we are looking to expand into other areas of medicine as well. Having a research base at the Sonoma West Medical Foundation will allow other medical providers to test new ideas and foster creative thinking in the North Bay.

To date the Research Institute has programs running for Alzheimer's research, strokes, and international telemedicine—building on the stroke protocols used at the medical center. We also have a strong community education program.

It has been a long journey to get to this point, but it is undoubtedly worth it.

Today, I saw a friend in the hallway by the Emergency Department and I asked if she was OK. She replied, "My husband is critically ill, and we are so thankful to you and all that you've done to reopen the medical center." This is what makes the journey so gratifying—it shows what can happen when a whole community is willing to step up. We simply refused to let our hospital die.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Plumfund, in conjunction with Giving Tuesday. In the series, we'll feature inspirational stories of giving and receiving from users and friends of Plumfund, the free crowdfunding site. You'll find one post every weekday in November leading up to Giving Tuesday. To learn more about this campaign or start your own, visit Plumfund.com.