Santa Barbara, CA — Just as the Thomas Fire, Montecito Debris Flow and Hill/Woolsey Fires pushed …
Passing over the threshold of the new building, onto the cardboard-covered white tile floors, conjured up an exhilarating and heartrending feeling — a culmination and a goodbye, all at once.
Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital vice president Arie Dejong noted the sensation on a springtime tour of the brand-new facility at 351 S. Patterson Ave., which would soon replace the original hospital building directly to the north.
“We’re leaving a 50-year-old building behind,” Dejong said. “It’s going to be exciting and emotional.”
Dejong has only been on staff since 2013, but he already felt connected to the existing Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, which opened in 1966 and has remained open throughout construction of the new facility.
So, imagine how Goleta Valley lifers feel.
The old building had to be replaced, however, to accommodate more stringent standards to withstand major earthquakes, as required by a state law passed in 1994.
The Goleta City Council approved the $126 million project in 2008, and construction crews got to work on the new, two-story, 152,000-square-foot building.
After a few hiccups, the new and improved Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital is set to receive its certificate of occupancy in May, opening to the public in July.
Once patients, equipment and staff move into the new building, the existing facility will be torn down. The act will close the chapter on a storied hospital with a long history of community support while setting the stage for the next century of pioneering medical care.
The most commonly used word to describe Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital is “asset.”
As the Goleta Valley grew in the 1960s, so did the need to establish a medical center. The nearest hospital back then was a 10-minute drive away in Santa Barbara or a trek to a much smaller general hospital on Calle Real, where low-income Santa Barbara County patients were treated. That facility eventually closed.
A group of seven local physicians decided to form their own hospital, and — as luck would have it — they were able to buy the Valley Hospital of Santa Barbara, a for-profit operation at the busy corner of Hollister and Patterson avenues. The hospital had been built by Southern California developers, who sold it less than two years after opening.
The one-story, 118-bed facility became Goleta Valley Community Hospital in January 1966. With local support, the hospital was community owned by 1971.
“That was a big deal for the community back when it was built,” said Robin Cederlof, a fifth-generation Goleta resident who has served on the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation board of directors and is involved in the Goleta Valley Historical Society.
“There were so many firsts that came out of the hospital. Goleta is kind of one of those forgotten little places. The little hospital was just doing so much.”
As a retired X-ray technician, Cederlof worked briefly at Goleta Valley, which in 1981 earned a designation as “the president’s hospital” in case then-President Ronald Reagan needed medical care while visiting his ranch in the mountains above the Gaviota coast.
The Goleta hospital was also the first locally to allow fathers in the delivery room (1968), to use the “miracle drug” Streptokinase to dissolve blood clots in heart-attack victims (1981), to open a comprehensive breast care center (1991), and to establish an outpatient hyperbaric Wound Care Center (2006).
“The hospital today is still pioneering a lot of great things,” Cederlof said. “Physicians from around the world are coming in to observe the surgeries.
“Having a hospital like this close in your community gives you a sense of pride. For me, it’s always my first destination hospital.”
When the Goleta Valley hospital struggled financially in the 1990s, the public took notice and sought help. The hospital joined Cottage Heath System in 1996 to consolidate its services and resources with neighboring Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
After the state mandated new earthquake regulations, but provided no funding for required upgrades, residents flooded public meetings to keep the Goleta facility open.
“It wouldn’t have stayed if it hadn’t been for the effort of the community,” said Goleta City Councilman Michael Bennett, a longtime resident who visited the hospital on numerous occasions, most recently for knee-replacement surgery.
“It’s so nice to have a local facility close by and easily accessible,” he added. “I can’t say enough about Goleta Valley Hospital. The care that was provided … everybody was just splendid.”
For a genuine indicator of community support, look no further than efforts to pay for the rebuild.
The Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation raised $14.3 million during its multiyear capital fundraising campaign — exceeding its goal of $14 million, said Tanya Gonzales, the foundation’s development officer.
Hospital operations and tax-exempt bonds help round out funding.
“I can’t think of really anybody who said no to wanting to support the hospital,” Cederlof said. “We had donations coming in as small as $10 to millions of dollars.”
Local business leaders Jim Knight and Craig Zimmerman helped get fellow business owners involved by heading a Corporate Partners Program, pitching the effort as — you guessed it — an asset.
What business owner isn’t looking for quality health care and wellness programs, Knight wondered aloud.
“It became our mission to basically educate and go to the community to help enlighten them,” said Earl Armstrong, board chairman of the hospital foundation. “I think the true feeling of the old hospital — with it’s very personal care and identifying the person coming in, treating them as family — that atmosphere is transferring to the new hospital.
“At Goleta Valley hospital, you’re never a number.”
Fundraisers didn’t have a hard sell.
For the first time, the new Goleta hospital will feature 52 beds with private rooms, compared to the 122 semi-private beds the current hospital is licensed to serve.
Both the Surgical Services Department and the award-winning Center for Wound Management will be expanded, along with the Emergency Department, which will more than double in size to accommodate 20 treatment rooms instead of eight.
The hospital’s patient-centered design includes six surgical suites instead of four, a new cafeteria with terrace dining, a dedicated endoscopy suite, eight private Intensive Care Unit rooms and a large outpatient physical therapy services center, where patients from Santa Barbara will be redirected.
The hospital foundation hopes to raise at least another $1.1 million as part of a new campaign for a healing arts program and the restorative gardens that will be planted where the current facility is once it’s been demolished. Additional parking is also slated for the space.
Back in the lobby of the new hospital, Dejong said the modern and open layout was “wildly different” than its predecessor.
Some of the hospital’s 322 full-time employees have been touring the facility for the past six months, getting their bearings because some departments were relocated to Santa Barbara or consolidated.
The anticipation has been mounting since late 2011, the hospital’s original completion date, which was delayed by soil foundation issues.
Dejong said the hospital expects to serve more people than ever. That’s the benefit of attracting patients, physicians and surgeons from across the globe for care, to observe procedures or to employ.
In 2014, Goleta Valley hospital helped 40,137 patients — 1,626 of which were admitted, 18,415 in the emergency department and 20,096 outpatient visits.
State-of-the-art equipment and a larger facility could also draw in more sought-after orthopedic, plastic, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons. An accompanying medical office building housing specialists should open in early 2016.
One thing that won’t change: quality and a family-friendly feel Dejong calls “the spirit of Goleta.”
Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital is also set up for the future, already having been retrofitted to add a third floor, if it becomes necessary.
“We’re positioning this to grow with Goleta as it grows,” Dejong said.