Mary Szecsey greeted a healthy-looking crowd at a groundbreaking ceremony for Guerneville’s new Russian River Health & Wellness Center last Friday.
“Today is all about appreciation,” Szecsey told the nearly 200 people gathered under a majestic oak on First Street where the new clinic is going up.
“We love this site,” said Szecsey, standing on the nearly two-acre property overlooking the Russian River west of Johnson’s Beach. With its administration offices and medical clinic augmented by walking paths, gardens and outdoor class space, “It’s such a wonderful place. It really takes the Russian River Health Center to a whole other level.”
Construction is scheduled to get under way this summer, and the $14.2 million center could open next year, offering medical, dental and behavioral services in a “health center of the future,” said Szecsey.
“I think most of you know why we’re here,” Szecsey told the audience last week. “We lost the Russian River Health Center in a fire in December of 2015. It’s been really difficult. After the fire we worked tirelessly, our entire team, for the last three and a half years, and we’ll probably continue to be working for a couple of more years before we realize the vision of having our new Russian River Health Center up and running.”
The grand opening is planned for next fall. Meanwhile a capital campaign to raise $8 million in private support continues and has so far raised about $4 million in commitments from the West County Health Center Board of Directors, staff, patients and other donors.
“All of you here in some way have helped us to get to where we are today,” said Szecsey. “From the bottom of my heart I really do want to say thank you to everyone here. It’s such a wonderful community to be a part of.”
West County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins also joined the celebration with her husband Emmett and their three kids, Gillian, Addy and Linden.
Rural health centers “are truly the social safety net out here,” said Hopkins. “And for people who may have mobility challenges or people with kids, it is really really difficult to access health care that is not actually in your community. So having this as a resource for the entire community makes our community that much stronger.”
West County Health Centers now serves 15,000 residents in western Sonoma County, “which is huge,” said Hopkins. “They have been here for 45 years, which is absolutely amazing.”
The new health clinic “is what many rural communities would dream of having, and we are actually going to get to see it happen in the lower Russian River.”
Guest speakers last week included Second District State Assemblyman Jim Wood.
“One of the challenges I face, being one of the very few Democratic legislators that represents a rural district, is the constant battle to get resources to our rural area. While we’re not that far from Santa Rosa, we’re a world away, and we’re a world away by design,” said Wood. “We’re here because we want to be here. My job is to convince all my colleagues in Sacramento that we deserve our share of the resources in our communities, and I fight for that every day for you.
“I am thrilled to be here for the groundbreaking today,” said Wood. “I can’t wait to see the progress as we go along.”