Reticently, but with certainty, I have concluded that the Palm Drive Health Care District Board should disband the district, submitting all pending district business to the County of Sonoma as a successor agency.
It is hard for me to write these words.
My family has benefited from care at Palm Drive Hospital, my wife and both of my sons having repeatedly utilized the emergency room there. My father, a Santa Rosa resident, was transported via ambulance to Sonoma West Medical Center during the October 2017 firestorms with a life-threatening medical emergency because the Santa Rosa-based hospitals were over capacity.
During my 28 year tenure with the Sebastopol Police Department, I was at Palm Drive Hospital hundreds of times, interviewing accident and crime victims, obtaining medical clearance for an arrestee or obtaining a blood sample for an investigation.
Whether my visits were personal or professional, the services provided were always compassionate, professional, personal and prompt. I know beyond any doubt that Palm Drive Hospital and the Sonoma West Medical Center saved lives. I witnessed emergency room ‘saves’ at Palm Drive Hospital that would have had a different outcome with added transport time to a Santa Rosa-based hospital.
On April 28, 2014, I was present at Palm Drive Hospital when it closed after 71 years of service to the community. It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had, a heartbreaking day I will never forget. Following the closure, I served in an advisory capacity on a district committee working to re-open the hospital as the Sonoma West Medical Center. I remember the meeting where District Director Daymon Doss took photographs, wanting to record for posterity the moment in time when reopening the hospital became a reality. And reopen it did.
Since the hospital closure on April 28, 2014, and certainly prior to then, countless smart, creative, generous, dedicated, community-minded people have worked to keep a hospital with an emergency room in Sebastopol — a goal I have long supported, both in word and deed.
Despite the best efforts of all involved, the district no longer owns the hospital property or buildings, and there is no longer a general-service hospital or emergency room at the site. While it is theoretically possible and allowable for the current owner to upgrade the current urgent care to an emergency room, there is nothing that mandates them doing so. They can choose to do so with or without the existence of the district.
I know the disbandment of the district will be an emotional blow to many who have served diligently for years, seeking to provide care to district residents and others. However, it is clear to me that the voters of the district agreed to tax themselves to fund a hospital with an emergency room, and since the district no longer has either, it has served its authorized purpose.
Those wishing to reconstitute the district to provide other worthwhile services, with or without taxpayer support, are free to take their ideas to the voters. Depending on what is proposed, I may vote for, or even advocate for, their proposal(s). But I may not. I, and all district voters, should be able to make the same decision.
Petition signature gathering is underway seeking to force disbandment of the district. Those involved will spend thousands of dollars and countless hours to accomplish what the district board can do on its own accord.
As a district resident, I want a hospital with an emergency room near my home. However, it is clear, for a variety of reasons, there won’t be one operated or overseen by the Palm Drive Health Care District and, therefore, it is time to disband the district or seek voter authorization to continue with a new mandate.
Jeffrey Weaver is a former chief of the Sebastopol Police Department, grew up in Sonoma County and has served on the Palm Drive Health Care District’s Futures Committee.