The Story of Our Hospital
A Personal Introduction
By Dan Smith
At the risk of stirring up even more confusion, I have decided to publish a series of short WACCO articles on Sonoma West Medical Center, a topic I know far more about than just about anybody. I wonít pretend that these are unbiased since I am obviously a big supporter of the hospital but will try to stick to the facts as I know them and expect that I will be corrected where I have made errors or missed important information. I also apologize for the length and likely readers might not be interested in all of the details now that we are the sound bite generation, but at least this material will be available for those with a curious mind.
By way of introduction, I was the Chairman of the 35 for Palm Drive, the community group that bought the hospital in 1999 to save it from closing. I was also the primary architect of the district and served as its first board chair in 2000, a role I left in 2001 when it became far too political for me. I was not involved in the hospital from that point until 2007 when it first went into bankruptcy. I spent the next 3 years getting it out of bankruptcy and it had a $5M net profit in 2010 when I was president of the board. During that time, my wife Joan and I donated about $2M and I served as a volunteer business advisor and later as the board chair.
I left the board in 2011 when it again became very political. In 2014, when the district voted to close the hospital, I along with hundreds of others tried to convince the board to keep it open and offered $3M to do so. After the closure, many of us got together and developed a plan to reopen it, which was accomplished in October of 2015 after some difficult political fights. I am currently the board chair of Sonoma West Medical Center Inc., the non-profit that manages the day to day activities of the hospital.
During these tumultuous times, I have been roundly criticized in the press and by anybody who wanted to see the hospital closed permanently. As an imperfect being and having an aversion to politics, some of this criticism is likely appropriate, but much of it has not been about me so much as an attempt to keep the hospital from opening by attacking its major benefactor. I have been repeatedly asked why we have worked so hard to have our hospital and though the answer has many layers, I would offer the following:
Like a lot of others, I have personal experience and have read the statistics that show that having and Emergency Room close to your home, schools, and businesses can mean the difference between life and death or recovery and disability. A Hospital is part of a system that includes police, firefighters, physician offices and other hospitals and therefore serves the regional community as well. In West County, it is one of the largest employers and brings many millions of dollars to the local economy. For all these reasons, it makes no sense to me to pay taxes for a closed hospital if you can have an open one and the best way to see if you can have an open one is to try.
My wife and I have committed the majority of our net worth to opening the hospital, (far more than we originally planned) but donít have any regrets even if the hospital proves to be unsustainable over the long term. We have at least given it a chance to succeed and at present it appears that it will in spite of the difficult birth it has had and the continued opposition from a minority of the community.
While I respect other peopleís opinion that we donít need a hospital and others who say that a hospital is simply not viable here, there has been all manner of misinformation spread around to support these views much of which is misleading or just plain false. My hope is to spread at least some light on the subject at a time when there is yet another election that pits supporters against detractors of the hospital so that voters will understand what they are choosing.
The first of these articles will follow this post. After responding to comments, I will post another article and invite others to join me with their own. I expect that there will be plenty of comments and only ask that we can be as civil as possible as it does not serve us as a community to jump into the gutter together. If you want to engage in personal attacks, I would appreciate it if you start your own thread.