Quality care close to home

Sonoma West Medical Center – Exceeding Patient Expectations

Medical Team Working On Patient In Emergency Room

There is virtually no wait at the Emergency Department (ED) at Sonoma West Medical Center, located at the heart of Sebastopol, where doctors and nurses are on duty 24 hours a day, every day. While at larger hospitals in Sonoma County patients might wait up to six hours to be treated, SWMC works to keep wait time to a minimum.

“We treat everything from cuts and bruises to strokes, heart attacks and chronic respiratory illnesses,” says Medical Director Dr. Bruce Deas, “There is a misconception in this community that if you have a real health problem, you must go somewhere else. But the truth is; we treat just about anything and patients are seen a lot faster here.” Originally from Healdsburg, Dr. Deas studied medicine in New York at Stanford and UC Irvine. He started work at SWMC in 2016, just a year after the 37-bed hospital re-opened. “Our doctors and staff are very motivated to do a good job. And because of our size, we have time to sit down and talk with the patient,” he said.

Dr.  Schmidt, Associate Medical Director of the ED concurs. “It’s almost nostalgic. It’s a style of care that’s hard to come by these days; it’s hometown care. With SWMC you get personable, individualized care. You’re not just a number. This is the antithesis of a health care system where you’re kind of on a conveyor belt. It’s the same reason people move to this community to begin with. They’re looking to have the small town experience where life is good.” Dr. Schmidt is New York born and bred and received a premier east coast education at NYU. He did his residency at Bellevue, what he calls a “wild city hospital” that provides residents with hands-on experience in OBGYN, pediatrics, cardiovascular disease and minor surgery.

With a background in emergency care and health care technology, Dr. Schmidt says he was fortunate enough to discover the Sebastopol area five years ago, when he fell in love with the community and the team at the hospital. “There are no nursing ratios in New York. A nurse may have 15 patients, and not even be able to attend to their medication. Here, nurses have the time to care and we have a team that can remember the humanity in each patient. People don’t realize how civilized hospital care can be.”

The Highest Qualifications

“Each member of the ED team is emergency board certified; the highest qualification for emergency medicine training you can get, and they receive recertification every year. You don’t necessarily get that in Urgent Care,” Dr. Schmidt says. Because of the size of the hospital, the staff also has the opportunity and autonomy to give the kind of care the patient wants and needs. “We are always thinking about how to improve the patient’s experience.”

That message is reinforced by RN and ED manager Maryann Mahoney. “We provide quality care close to home,” she says. “More than any other hospital I’ve managed, there is opportunity here to make changes and to make a difference. Working at a place like this is not about the glamor and glory. Many of us have been here since the opening. Our team, everybody who works in the ED really wants to be here.” She says the hospital has the feel of a new organization. “If you have an innovative idea to improve a process, improve patient care, you have the chance to put it into practice. Just pick up the phone or walk down the hall. In a larger organization you don’t have that chance.”

“We take the resources we have on hand and work to make something new. Innovation and experimentation is part of the adventure. We’re flexible,” adds Dr. Schmidt. “We use of all our experience to improve patient care and patients enjoy the attention. They can’t get that kind of service elsewhere. That’s what keeps this hospital busy.”

Typical of those on the nursing staff, Maryann Mahoney has 30 years of nursing experience. She went to school in San Francisco. She was previously a nursing team leader at Kaiser in Santa Rosa and at Santa Rosa Memorial and was asked to come and open the hospital in 2015. “Nurses here have the experience behind them. Though they can get jobs anywhere, our team is here because they want to be here,” Mahoney said. “I’m really having a blast. The staff and doctors are so supportive, and there is a lot of on-going education. We have the opportunity to make a difference.”

Something people may not be aware of is that SWMC accepts admissions from larger emergency rooms, ICU and medical facilities like Sutter Santa Rosa on a daily basis, because they don’t have enough bed space. The hospital played an especially critical role during the October Wildfires. “Suddenly we were on the map,” Dr. Schmidt explains. “Patients were coming from hospitals all over Santa Rosa, a trend that continued even after the fires. Even to this day they say ‘Once I knew this was here…’ people come because they like the care here.  A lot of people are amazed at what we are able to provide.”

Playing an Important Role During the 2017 Wildfires

On an average day, the hospital sees 15 – 17 patients. On Monday, October 9, as the wildfires began to rage, patients flooded the 5-bed ER, and the hospital suddenly jumped from four to 51 patients. By Wednesday, another 90 patients had been treated. According to the Hospital’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nurse Executive Barbara Vogelsang victims of the fires were brought to SWMC by a stream of ambulances. Patients were bussed in from Sutter Santa Rosa and Kaiser which had to be evacuated. Aside from a few tense moments, things went smoothly for a crew that hadn’t before seen such volume. “You’d think it would be total chaos, but it just wasn’t. It was controlled busy. You do what you have to do,” she said.

EMTs Step Up to the Challenge

As an EMT for the emergency room at Sonoma West Medical Center, Patrick Lee regularly treats patients for everything from scrapes and bruises to cardiac arrests, strokes and drownings. During the October Wildfires, Lee split his time between Mendocino on the ambulance and in the ER at SWMC. He was on the front lines, rescuing families, some with very severe burns, and some who didn’t make it. He, along with everyone else worked double shifts, up to 48 hours without sleep, which he modestly says comes with the territory. “It’s not a big deal when you are helping somebody.”

During the fires the hustle was nonstop. “It was a long two weeks. We were sleeping on the ground at the firehouse, crashing in our cars for power naps, and going 12 hours without food because we were so busy.  We all managed somehow. We didn’t think about it, we just did it. Nothing mattered but the people in trouble. It was one of the worst and one of the best experiences of my life. There was no personal stuff, no drama, the hospital really shined.”

EMT’s are first-responders who work under paramedics, but also stock the ER, treat patients with splinting, wound care, severe bleeds and work bedside with every cardiac arrest patient in the hospital. Some patients request to be brought to SWMC over other hospitals in the area, Lee said. “I’ve seen a wide variety of calls here. EMT’s are Jack-of-All-Trades. We do a little bit of everything, from charting to EKG’s to CPR, and whatever is needed.”

Lee is full-time at SWMC, and also works part time as an ambulance EMT in Mendocino County and is currently studying to be a paramedic. “I enjoy helping people who come through the door. It’s a nice little community hospital. It’s not even my community because I live in Cotati, but I take pride in what I do here and feel accomplished when I go home.”

Hospital Staff Share Their Experiences

When pressed to perform during extraordinary circumstances, SWMC staff not only came through, they exceeded all expectations and did not give up until everyone was safe and all patients received proper care.