Palomar Health CEO envisions future expansion for new clinic
By Karen Brainard
At the June 20 groundbreaking event for the Ramona Ambulatory Care Center, Palomar Health President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Covert said he believes the clinic will need to be expanded in the near future due to demand.
“One of my visions is, I will bet you if this community supports this place the way I think it will, is that within two years after we are up we’re going to need to expand again,” Covert said.
The public health district purchased the site for the clinic on 13th Street, across from the Ramona Library, planning for future growth, said Covert. The medical center will cover about one acre of Palomar Health’s three-acre site.
Approximately 135 people attended the groundbreaking event for the long-awaited clinic that was downsized from original plans of a two-story, nearly 37,000 square-foot building to one-story, 7,600 square feet due to a downturn in the economy and changes in tenant commitments.
Health officials and resident Arvie Degenfelder spoke at the ceremony and noted that the clinic, estimated to cost $6 million, was made possible with the passage of Proposition BB, the nearly $500 million bond measure that district voters approved in 2004. The bond money has also funded the new Palomar Medical Center building in Escondido, slated to open later this summer, along with other facilities, officials said.
“In this time of instant feedback and 24/7 news and everything, it’s important to recognize that good things often do take time and are often worth waiting for,” Degenfelder told the crowd.
While health officials talked about the nine years it has taken to get the clinic off the ground, Degenfelder said her crusade for a medical facility began decades ago.
It all started, Degenfelder said, shortly after she moved to Ramona in 1973 and learned that older residents were leaving the community because they could not get a higher level of health care.
Degenfelder said that in 1985 she began serving on the school district board with Dr. Marcelo Rivera and they recognized the need for a medical clinic as the community grew. When Rivera left the school board for the Palomar Health board, Degenfelder said he promised her that Ramona would get a clinic.
Rivera said that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he and Dr. Michael Barker had visions for an ambulatory care center that would bring in specialty doctors. Their efforts weren’t successful, he said, but the dream never died.
When Covert took the helm as president and CEO of Palomar Health in 2003, Rivera brought him to Ramona “to show him that the backcountry existed for the Palomar Health District.”
Rivera noted that the clinic and library will be part of the future Ramona Intergenerational Community Campus (RICC).
“It’s so important for the whole town,” he said. “This is something the board dedicated itself to and delivered on a promise to the community that we made in 2004 and that you supported with $500 million.”
Covert said the project had its share of obstacles, besides trying to decide on building location and design.
“We had political issues, we had zoning issues, we had financial issues, we had logistical issues…everybody seemed to work through those. Then we were hit with the economy so that took us back a little bit. But I don’t think that there’s anybody here today that ever wavered on the need for having facilities here,” said Covert.
Dr. Stuart Graham, chairman of Arch Health Partners board of directors, explained that Arch Health Partners, formerly known as Centre for Healthcare, and Palomar Health decided several years ago that to establish a medical center in Ramona they would have to work together.
“We’ve got great doctors in the community and we’re going to have a little bit higher level of service, extended hours and all the things the people of Ramona really need and we’re going to provide that,” said Graham.
According to Victoria Lister, Arch Health executive director, the clinic will offer primary care, urgent care, routine diagnostic imaging, such as chest and extremity X-rays, and a lab with a separate entrance.
Lister also said Arch hopes to enter into an agreement with Kaiser Permanente to see Kaiser patients on an urgent care basis.
“We just know that there are a lot of Kaiser patients living up here,” she said.
Scott Flinn, Arch Health medical director, said initial plans call for the center to be open weekdays with hours extended into the early evening, and part-time on Saturdays with possible hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. As demand for services grows, Flinn said the hours will be expanded.
Grading has already begun at the site.
Mike Shanahan, Palomar Health director of facilities planning, said they hope to have the project completed around April 2013.
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