A group of West Marin residents and healthcare providers have begun efforts to raise support for the construction of a massive new community-owned healthcare center in Point Reyes Station, which, at an estimated 25,000 square feet, would be the largest building ever constructed in the small unincorporated community.
“The idea would be to build a community-owned building, where things like labs and copying machines would be shared, and that would be accessible, affordable and green,” said Michael Mery last week, at a meeting of the Point Reyes Station Village Association.
Mery, a West Marin native who is participating in the effort with Dick Lemon, Suzanne Speh and Carol Sweig, said the center would address his and others’ growing concern that in coming years existing local healthcare providers will lack both the space and resources to meet local medical demands.
“We’re doing better than most right now, actually,” he said. “But this is all in the context of changing healthcare. We would essentially be planning for our children and grandchildren.”
Mery said local facilities, such as the West Marin Medical Center and clinics rented by the Coastal Health Alliance, are “woefully deficient,” and that healthcare providers in the community are increasingly being required to field unsustainable rises in patient demand.
Not all facilities, though, see the need for a collaborative center as simply space-contingent. “Some places are more crowded than others, like I don’t feel as though my facility is crowded,” said physical therapist and owner of West Marin Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, Amy Schliftman. “But one of the perks of a center such as this would be rent control, which would mean I wouldn’t be at the mercy of local commercial building owners who can at any time raise rents.”
Others have expressed immediate non-patient related deficiencies. “I think that we do have adequate exam room space to accommodate the demand we are seeing presently, but we certainly have limitations to other things—administrative mostly—and in the future we may need additional exam space,” said Rafael Gomez, who is the executive director of the Coastal Health Alliance, which operates clinics in Point Reyes Station, Bolinas and Stinson Beach. Gomez and his fellow administrators currently rent several rooms out of the nearby Livery Stable building.
There are a number of preliminary concerns, not the least of which is size. “It’s big,” said Marshall Livingston, a local businessman in attendance. “It means a total rearrangement of properties and the town, [and the potential for] vacancies downtown. It could be the biggest thing the Village Association has ever taken on.”
And it would be costly. In a written proposal, the group said the project would cost an estimated $6.8 million—though Mery verbally put the figure at between $8 and $9 million—and that they “will attempt to raise sufficient funds to pay for this entire amount with cash so that our rents could be structured to cover only ongoing costs and reserves.”
Donations could come from a number of possible sources, Mery said, including Marin Healthcare District, Kaiser Permanente—which currently insures over half the patient population of West Marin—the Marin Community Foundation and individual benefactors.
Another point of concern is site selection. Mery said the group has its eye set on a 1.8-acre parcel along Mesa Road, adjacent to the cluster of EAH affordable housing units. The site, which is already outfitted for electricity and sewage, is owned by the county and has been held back from development by the California Coastal Commission in the past to be “reserved for a future overnight visitor-serving facility.”
Mery said that a 24-hour urgent care unit at the center would likely fulfill the visitor-serving requirement, and that the group plans to meet with staff members of the Coastal Commission this fall before submitting a formal application. He also noted that, contingent on sufficient community support, Supervisor Steve Kinsey would be willing to help convince the county to donate the land.
A number of other groups, however, have alternative thoughts about what best to do with that site. “I know informally that people have thought of other uses, such as a swimming pool, hostel, community kitchen, etc.,” said Mark Switzer at the meeting. “So I would hope that we would explore all the alternatives before moving forward.”
One woman in attendance expressed concern that the construction of such a large and state-of-the-art center would likely attract visitors from out of the area and could add unwarranted congestion to Point Reyes Station.
But the proposal is still just that, Mery said, and would take into account such concerns.
Members of the Village Association left the meeting with mixed feelings about the plan, as well as ideas of how best to present it to the community at large. “I think the important thing is to foster a discussion of ideas, rather than sell a concept,” said one participant.
A tentative committee was formed on Thursday—though few members were willing to join it—to plan at least one public forum on either the proposal, or possible alternatives for the site, or just what to do about future changes in healthcare in general.
“There’s enthusiasm for this that I don’t want to quell, but it’s so early on,” Schliftman said. “The expense of it for the community, the fundraising and the fact that it’s always burdensome to the community to have a large capital fundraising campaign—there’s a real fear that it is just another big capital campaign.”