For decades, midtown Ventura has been a health care hub for Ventura County, but it’s a vision that’s gone largely unrecognized as the city grew up around Community Memorial Hospital.
Now, armed with a new plan and $350 million in financing for major revamps in Ventura and Ojai, CMH is going to make that vision a reality. The new era for CMH, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, officially kicks off with a Sept. 14 groundbreaking.
But in advance of that event, I spent an hour on the phone with CEO Gary Wilde, a veteran of the Central Coast health care scene, to talk about the evolution of the CMH System for the 21st century.
“We’re going to be employing scores of workers and we have a strong preference for hiring local craftspeople and local contractors,” he told me. “We and the city and the community feel this will be an economic catalyst for the area.”
Wilde thinks there is potential for midtown Ventura, a collection of single-story buildings lined up along Main Street, to eventually look a bit like the revitalized Pasadena. That is, evolving from single purpose to mixed-use structures, with some housing tossed in.
The catalyst for this growth will be the rebuilding of Community Memorial’s main hospital, a move triggered by seismic mandates but one that frankly was needed because the existing hospital was reaching the point where it was getting tough to attract top-notch doctors. The new, 338,000-square-foot facility will wrap around the existing hospital but, it will be “almost a complete rebuild” Wilde said.
That means a heavy focus on private rooms and family-oriented waiting facilities at the new hospital, which will have 250 rooms compared to 242 at present. Each of the key medical suites — ICU, surgery, maternal/child health — will have its own fully contiguous space. And the project will try for LEED Gold certification, setting a new standard for mid-town, officials said.
When construction is completed in roughly 42 months, Wilde thinks CMH will be well positioned to expand a relatively new residency program and develop some new partnerships. “Health care reform will build a lot of new relationships,” Wilde said. A former executive with Cottage Health System in Santa Barbara, Wilde has alredy forged an agreement to use some Cottage emergency room doctors; relations between CMH and other hospitals in
Ventura County, including the county-run Medical Center, have improved dramatically since he took over from the controversial Michael Bakst.
Financing the new hospital has started off with a relative windfall. Although it fell one grade short of an investment-grade rating, CMH’s story carried weight with institutional bond buyers who oversubscribed an August offering so heavily that CMH and adviser Merrill Lynch expanded the bond sale to $350 million. That gives the project extra liquidity and plenty of cash to rebuild CMH as well as a much smaller Ojai facility whose budget is in the $12.5 million range. Bond buyers get a double-tax exempt issue with a coupon averaging about 7 percent.
CMH has pledged to raise about $25 million from Ventura County in philanthropic contributions and it has about 25 percent in hand from a “quiet” campaign of advance pledges. But Wilde thinks the dual message of a vastly superior hospital and economic development catalyst will win over community donors.
Ventura County’s health care system is extremely diverse, including a for-profit hospital in Thousand Oaks, Catholic Healthcare West facilities in Oxnard and Camarillo, a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Simi Valley, the county-run medical centers and clinics, and, independent, nonprofit CMH. The system only works if all of the major pieces are fully functional. CMH’s rebuild is a keystone for the system and a chance for the city of Ventura to elevate its game.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article gave an incorrect address for the groundbreaking location and the site of the new hospital. It will be located at 147 North Brent St. in Ventura.]