The greatest number of inquiries I have received during my time on the city council and as Mayor concern the lack of medical facilities in Rio Vista. I believe now is a good time to review
a bit of history and bring everyone up to date on this topic. Due to its length, I am splitting this update into two segments. The first will deal with the history and the second segment will address recent events and our current status.
As early as the 1970’s, Rio Vista had a least one independent primary care practitioner caring for Rio Vista citizens. In the 1990’s, NorthBay HealthCare, through its affiliation with the Fairfield Medical Group, opened a one physician primary care office. In the 2000’s the Fairfield Medical Group ended its affiliation with NorthBay and became part of Sutter Health. The Sutter Health facility was located in the now vacant bank building across from the Lira’s parking lot. During its time, it featured a primary care physician, offered physicals, did blood work and had x-ray capabilities. In short, if was a place you could go to for routine testing and non-urgent care needs. About 10 years ago, Sutter closed the facility saying it was not profitable and was not in line with their HMO model where its services were concentrated in one facility. Since then Rio Vista has been underserved.
Over the years, various people have tried to generate a medical presence with little success. In 2012, former Mayor Richardson arranged a town hall meeting bringing the major providers to town to discuss our needs and arrive at some solution. Little progress resulted from this effort. In 2014, I became involved with seeking a medical provider. With some help from county Supervisor Thomson, councilmembers McCracken, Hampton and I connected with the Solano Coalition for Better Health. A committee was formed with the purpose of bringing a medical presence to Rio Vista. The committee included the major medical providers in the area; Kaiser, North Bay, Sutter, La Clinica and Solano County Family Health Care. Over the course of many meetings, the committee visited potential sites, explored options and discussed barriers. It became apparent that we needed better factual data in pushing for a solution, so in September, 2016 a community survey was commissioned. We received about 1,200 responses, a meaningful sample of Rio Vista households. The survey clearly demonstrated that there was a need for local medical services and that transportation issues were the biggest concern, especially for seniors. However, for me, the most telling statistic was that about 55% of the respondents were Kaiser Members.
Our objective was to have a brick and mortar facility in Rio Vista which was available to all. Kaiser is a member’s only model and does not support satellite clinics. There was little interest on Kaiser’s part for a local brick and mortar facility and their model only supported Kaiser members. With Kaiser being the dominant player, the remaining providers did not feel there was sufficient economic potential from the non-Kaiser population to justify committing to a local facility. Discussions then centered on a mobile facility but that didn’t gain much traction as a fixed site was our objective and we didn’t feel a mobile unit would be well received and therefore underused. Other issues such as billing between providers, doctor availability and oversight seemed insurmountable. By mid-2017, interest waned and meetings were discontinued.
Fast forward to about a year ago. F&M Bank acquired The Bank of Rio Vista and consolidated their back office operations to a location in Lodi. They had no need for the office building behind their Main Street bank building. I thought that the floor plan of this facility lent itself to a medical office. The building is located downtown with good parking. F&M was approached and supported the concept. Bank management felt that it would be a good opportunity for them to support the community and indicated that, together with help from the city, incentives could be provided to encourage interest from a medical provider. Working with Lynn Hansen, we resurrected the Solano Coalition committee. A meeting was arranged with the Solano Coalition, Kaiser, Sutter, and North Bay. I presented the idea of all three providers sharing the F&M facility. Each provider would operate an independent medical office within the facility to service its own members and all three would gain some economic advantage by sharing common administrative and lab services. This would solve the billing problems and physician oversight. I also discussed the willingness to provide financial incentives and favorable lease terms to help mitigate the risk of opening a brick and mortar facility. The participants agreed to tour the site and consider possible options.
Next week, I will review recent meetings with providers and present our current status.
Last week I reviewed the history relating to a medical presence in the city and ended with the availability of the F&M Bank office building as the site for a facility that could accommodate all medical providers and provide our residents with primary care.
Let’s bring us up to date. As a result of the meeting where I proposed the possibility of the three major providers sharing the F&M facility, I did get follow-up interest from Kaiser and North Bay Medical. Let me start with developments with Kaiser.
I had several discussions with the Kaiser development team which culminated in a meeting with Nor Jemjemian, Senior Vice President and Area Manager for Napa/Solano. He stated that Kaiser would not consider a brick and mortar location unless a city had at least 10,000 rooftops. That is about twice as many as we currently have. He also was not receptive to the concept of sharing the F&M facility with other providers. However, he did appreciate the transportation concerns expressed by Kaiser members and did commit to building a new medical mobile unit which would be at a Rio Vista location at least twice a week. Local members could then coordinate services and schedule routine visits and tests at the mobile unit instead of traveling to a main facility. After some discussion as to how members would accept a mobile unit, we discussed having Kaiser host a flu shot clinic open to all during the Bass Derby. At that time a mobile unit similar to the unit proposed for Rio Vista would be available for everyone to tour. They could then see for themselves that the proposed mobile unit is a first class clinic. The flu shot clinics were held and over 500 shots administered. Numerous people toured the mobile unit and the responses were favorable. Mr. Jemjemian said the Rio Vista unit is being built, outfitted, and personnel scheduled with an eye to commencing operation in early summer. While that is good news for Kaiser members, it doesn’t address the rest of us.
While discussions were underway with Kaiser, I had a follow-up discussion with Steve Huddleston, Vice President-Public Affairs for North Bay. North Bay was interested in exploring expanding into Rio Vista. A meeting was arranged with the North Bay development group to discuss the recent growth and potential development in the city as well as to tour the F&M site. During this meeting, North Bay discussed a possible partnership with OLE Health. OLE is a Federally Qualified Health Center and specializes in providing high quality primary care in underserved communities (See www.olehealth.org for more information). North Bay has partnered with them on other projects. North Bay would provide equipment and some financial help while OLE provided the medical staff and operations. It seemed like a great fit. We then arranged for the OLE team to visit Rio Vista and tour the facility and discuss the possibility of moving forward. After the meeting I came away with the feeling that there was a good possibility of moving forward. Unfortunately, last week I was informed that OLE decided to pass at this time. Their decision seems to stem from two factors. First, they are struggling to find physicians and so are cautious about extending their operations at this time. Second, OLE Health continues to focus on geography that has the largest population and felt that due to the large number of Kaiser members, the Rio Vista market is small and OLE’s service opportunities were limited. In summary, we are not where we want to be; however, it’s not for lack of trying. We have been working on this for a long time but it seems that the economics and the structure of medical service providers are focused on centralized medicine. Rio Vista is still not big enough to command local service. We need to just about double in size to attract serious attention. However, there are still avenues to pursue that may yield results. Most efforts to attract a medical provider have been targeted to providers west of Rio Vista. In the next few months I will be expanding efforts to Lodi and Contra Costa County as well as contacting other Federally Qualified Health providers operating in the Sacramento underserved communities. On the plus side, we do have a first class paramedic emergency response in our Fire Department as well as the Holistic Health Center which continues to expand the services it offers including blood draws and some urgent care treatments. Also, there are transportation options offered by Delta Breeze and the Solano Mobility program that offer transportation to and from medical appointments.