Becoming Independent Wins the Nonprofit Community Hero Award From Santa Rosa Metro Chamber

The Santa Rosa Metro Chamber’s Black Tie Gala on the Square

The Black Tie Gala on the Square is the Chamber’s most illustrious event of the year. It’s a celebration of you—our members—and your collective action to drive economic growth and shared prosperity in our region.

For one magical October evening, we’ll transform Courthouse Square into the swanky city center for an open-air cocktail hour and party in the pavilion featuring a five-star dinner, a limited live auction, and a short program recognizing outstanding contributions to our community.

As a business and civic leader, your participation in this exclusive event supports all Santa Rosa Metro Chamber initiatives—from advocacy, education, housing and workforce development programs to industry and small business development—and helps us create a vibrant community for our members, residents and visitors to Sonoma County.

3,000 High School Students to Learn “Adulting” from Redwood Credit Union

Many financial institutions will be closed for the federal holiday on October 14, but Redwood Credit Union (RCU) will be closed for a different reason: to send all 700 of its employees out to teach practical financial skills to more than 3,000 high school students across three North Bay counties.

The program is called Bite of Reality, and has been presented by RCU to local high school students since 2013, but never at such large scale. On this one impactful day, RCU will send its workforce to 15 schools in Sonoma, Marin, and Napa counties. (See Addendum below for county-specific schools.) Students will learn how to budget for and manage the costs of securing necessities like housing, food, transportation, childcare, and paying other bills—a litany of responsibilities colloquially referred to as “adulting.”

“We believe money management is an essential life skill for young people to learn,” said Brett Martinez, RCU President and CEO. “However, because it’s not a graduation requirement, financial education differs greatly between schools. The Bite of Reality program helps fill in gaps, giving teens an eye-opening introduction to the everyday money challenges they will face as adults, and to navigating those financial decisions wisely.”

Elected officials slated to attend this year’s Bite of Reality include Congressman Mike Thompson and Senator Bill Dodd in Napa, and Congressman Jared Huffman in San Rafael.

In Bite of Reality, students receive a fictional occupation, salary, spouse and family, student loan debt, credit card debt, and medical insurance payments. They then visit various table-top stations to “purchase” housing, transportation, food, clothing, household necessities, day care, and other essentials. The game also includes a credit union station to help with their financial needs if they overspend.

For more information about the Bite of Reality program, visit RCU’s website.

About Redwood Credit Union

Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary), insurance and auto-purchasing services are also available. RCU has over $4.7 billion in assets and serves more than 344,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah, plus more than 30,000 fee-free network ATMs nationwide. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.


[Programs at all schools begin in the morning. If you plan on attending, please contact us for specific times and details.]

Participating Sonoma County High Schools

  • Cloverdale High School
  • Elsie Allen High School
  • Maria Carrillo High School
  • North Met Academy
  • Piner High School
  • Ridgway High School
  • Sonoma Valley High School
  • Windsor High School

Participating Napa County High Schools 

  • American Canyon High School
  • Napa High School
  • Valley Oak High School

Participating Marin County High Schools

  • San Marin High School
  • San Rafael High School
  • Tomales High School
  • Novato High School

Becoming Independent Plans to Expand into Marin County

Becoming Independent, a nonprofit assisting those with disabilities, plans to begin offering services in Marin County with the signing of a lease for space in San Rafael.

“We’ve heard from people in the San Rafael area for years, asking us to bring Becoming Independent’s services further south. We are so thankful for our newfound partnership with Stephanie Plante and look forward to becoming an important part of the Marin community,” Luana Vaetoe, CEO of Becoming Independent, stated in the announcement.

Plante is the president and CEO of CPi Developers.

“We are so pleased to have the opportunity to welcome BI’s wonderful services to our community, where there is such a great need,” stated Plante. “CPi Developers are deeply involved with Marin nonprofits, and BI’s mission carries a particular resonance for us. We look forward to BI joining and supporting this community.”

Becoming Independent’s new Marin County facility will be at 777 Grand Ave., Suite 101, in San Rafael. With the 1,945 square foot facility, Becoming Independent expects to extend its day services to clients there beginning this fall.

“The Grand Avenue space will serve as BI’s Marin County home base, and renovations will commence immediately. Once the new facility opens, 30 people will be able to participate in BI’s day services and benefit from the smaller staff-to-client ratios that distinguish BI’services,” the group’s announcement stated. 

Buck Institute in Novato Expands Reproduction Research

The Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan announced Monday they are expanding their partnership to study the connection between female reproduction and longevity.

Some 200 people gathered at the Buck Institute to celebrate the official launch of the Buck’s new Center for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality. The center was created in July 2018 with $6 million in seed money from Shanahan, who is the founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP and the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Shanahan said Monday that the Bia-Echo Foundation, which she founded with Brin, will provide an additional $7.4 million to create the Global Consortium for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality based at the Buck Institute.

Buck Institute CEO Eric Verdin said the consortium “will be a grant-funding mechanism emanating from the Buck.” It will stimulate research in the field of female reproductive aging by distributing the $7.4 million as grants over the next two years to scientists worldwide.

Addressing attendees Monday over lunch, Shanahan recounted how her interest in women’s reproductive longevity was sparked by her own problems getting pregnant.

“Ten percent of women are infertile by the time they turn 35, and just five years later at the age of 40, a woman has only a 5% chance of becoming pregnant,” Shanahan said. “I committed myself to help future generations of women have more choices.”

According to an article published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on Friday, Shanahan has pledged to give $100 million to “programs that help women become pregnant later in life, that aim to overhaul the criminal-justice system, and that address the effects of climate change.”

In a statement, Verdin said, “While menopause and ovarian aging set off a cascade of negative health effects in women’s bodies that impact bone, cognitive, cardiovascular and immune function, the field has been significantly understudied.”

Although Shanahan and Brin were able to conceive a child, Shanahan said at one point she had given up hope. Shanahan, who earned a law degree before founding ClearAccessIP, a patent management technology company, said she had to overcome gender bias and workplace discrimination to succeed in her career.

“Like many women who are not quite ready to start a family in their early 30s, I decided, or so I thought at the time, to take matters into my own hands and freeze embryos,” Shanahan said. “However, after three failed attempts at embryo-making and three dozen visits to in vitro fertilization clinics around the Bay Area, I learned that I was not nearly as unshakable as I thought I was. “

Shanahan said she was prevented from going through the early stages of in vitro fertilization treatment due to a diagnosis with polycystic ovary syndrome. She said her goal is to see scientific advancements to allow women to continue bearing children into their mid-50s.

True to the Buck Institute’s credo, “live better longer,” Verdin emphasized the mission of allowing women to remain healthier as they age.

“Even though women live longer than men by two or three years, they tend to age with more disease than men,” Verdin said. “There is a profound inequality there between men and women.”

The event included a panel discussion with a group of scientists who have recently joined the Center for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality.

“Every woman is given a pool of eggs in the fetal stage,” said Lei Lei, an associate professor and the center’s scientific director. “We are only able to use less than 1 percent of the eggs in the pool. What if we could use just a little more?”

Jennifer Garrison, faculty director of the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality, said one of the biggest mysteries is why humans are one of only a handful of species who undergo menopause. The other species definitely known to experience menopause are all toothed whales — belugas, narwhals, killer whales and short-finned pilot whales.

Garrison said it is also puzzling why women’s ovaries reach their maximum potential prior to their first use and rapidly decline by a woman’s fourth decade of life.

Shanahan said, “Personally, I find it crazy that my reproductive organs are considered geriatric long before any other organ even begins to show the slightest decline. I find it even crazier that we have conceded to this narrative for half of the human species.”

Sonoma Raceway Hosts CSRG Charity Challenge Races to Raise $1 Million for Sonoma County Youth Groups, Oct. 5-6

The Classic Sports Racing Group’s 16th annual Charity Challenge Vintage Car Races at Sonoma Raceway will showcase fine vintage race cars all in the name of charity next weekend, Oct.5-6.

More than 200 vintage race cars in nine race groups will hit the track for a full weekend of racing on the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course. The event will feature vintage Formula 1 cars, Formula Fords, as well as prototype and production sports cars spanning from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Veteran racer John Morton, famous for driving Trans-Am, Can-Am, IMSA GTP, F5000 and many other race car types, will not only serve as Grand Marshal of the Charity Challenge, but will also race in the season finale of the Morton Trophy, a series created for small sedans from the 1960s and 1970s.

The weekend will be highlighted by three feature groups, including the Crossflow Cup that celebrates 51 years of Formula Ford; The USRRC G4 Series that pays homage to the USRRC Series from the ‘60s, the forerunner of the Can-Am, and the John Morton Cup.

All race groups will hit the track for practice and qualifying races on Saturday and main events on Sunday. Proceeds from the weekend benefit Sonoma County youth groups through Speedway Children’s Charities (SCC), the charitable arm of Sonoma Raceway. CSRG has generously contributed more than $960,000 to SCC since 2004, and will race to raise that mark to $1 million over the course of the Charity Challenge.

In addition to the on-track action, race attendees are invited to take a close look at the race cars throughout the paddock and spectators are also allowed to walk amongst the cars as they are staged on-track before a select number of racing groups.

To join in the race to raise $1 million for Sonoma County charities, spectators can enjoy an unforgettable ride around the road course on Saturday and Sunday. For a minimum tax-deductible $75 donation, depending upon the car, fans 16 years and older can take a thrilling, three-lap ride around the road course. Fans can choose from 40 different race cars, including Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Jaguar, Porsche, Corvette and Mustangs, among others.  The Charity Track Rides will take place during the lunch break on Saturday and Sunday and always sell out quickly. Sign-ups begin at 9 a.m. each day in the first floor of the John Cardinale Media Center.

Tickets for the CSRG Charity Challenge can be purchased online for $16 each day or $28 for a two-day pass. Race weekend is a family-friendly event. Kids 12 years and under, students of all ages, as well as military and veterans are admitted free with appropriate identification and parking is free.

For more information on the CSRG Charity Challenge, visit or visit CSRG’s Facebook page at For tickets, check the Sonoma Raceway ticket site at

Sutter Embarks on $173 Million Expansion of Santa Rosa Hospital

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital last week broke ground on a $173 million hospital expansion and renovation intended to relieve crowding in a hospital that has seen rapid growth in the number of patients it treats since it opened only five years ago.

The expansion, scheduled to be completed by September 2022, will greatly increase the number of beds and reduce the reliance on neighboring medical centers, said Mike Purvis, the hospital’s CEO.

“Right now because of capacity, we often need to transfer patients to other hospitals,” he said. “This will mean less disruption and more continuity in terms of care.”

Sutter Health will invest $158 million to cover the expansion cost. Another $15 million is expected to be raised through a five-year capital campaign.

Purvis said since the hospital opened in 2014, the number of visits to the emergency department has increased 40%. The hospital now gets about 37,000 annual visits to the emergency department and admits nearly 7,000 patients a year overall.

“Having additional beds will allow us to offer a bed to everyone in emergency or medical and surgical services,” Purvis said, noting the project wlll mean the hospital will need to add employees.

The existing 84-bed, 183,817-square-foot hospital, which cost $284 million to build, will continue to operate during construction. Work on the new three-story, 67,000-square-foot tower on the east side of the hospital is expected to begin Monday.

The expansion will include 40 medical, surgical beds (20 on each of the top two floors), two new operating rooms, 20 intensive care unit beds and 11 post-anesthesia care beds.

The expansion also will allow Sutter to renovate 10,713 square feet of space in the existing hospital. In doing so, Sutter plans to add nine emergency department bays, which will give the hospital 22 emergency bays. The renovation will allow the hospital to expand dietary, laboratory and blood bank services.

Sutter officials said last week they’re hoping to minimize the level of disruption caused by the two-year construction project.

Most of the disruption will occur during the foundation and steel structure work, the first two construction phases. But hospital officials said the exterior walls of the new tower will be erected using prefabricated panels, a construction process that has never been used before at a local hospital.

Matthew Boersma, senior project manager for HerreroBoldt, the construction manager/general contractor for the expansion, said the wall panels will be fabricated offsite, even as the steel structure is erected.

On Friday, hospital officials and local politicians gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the expansion site. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose 4th District includes the Sutter campus, recalled the Sutter staff’s efforts to get the hospital reopened after the 2017 North Bay wildfires.

“This isn’t just about a building,” Gore said. “It’s filled with service, commitment and resilience to the top level.”

Julie Petrini, CEO of Sutter Bay Hospitals, said completion of the larger hospital “can’t come soon enough” to meet the needs of the community.

“I realize that we have a full hospital almost each and every day,” she said.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose 3rd District includes the site of the old Sutter hospital on Chanate Road, said last week the hospital was built too small to begin with.

Zane said she and former county health services director Rita Scardacci had run the numbers and quickly realized the planned hospital would not be big enough for the growing community.

At the time, county officials were bracing for thousands more local residents getting health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which became law around the time the Sutter hospital broke ground in 2010 and was fully implemented by the time the hospital opened in 2014.

“We figured out that instead of 80 beds they really needed 150 beds,” Zane said. “We were very, very adamant that they needed those extra beds.”

Zane said the Affordable Care Act has resulted in 50,000 residents enrolled in either Medi-Cal or an individual plan through the state’s health exchange.

“We knew the hospital was going to fill up right away, and I think it happened within the first weeks,” she said.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said the expansion, as with any major construction project, will be a boon to the local economy.

“A project of this size is representative of Sutter’s commitment to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County,” Rumble said.

For Purvis, who has led the Santa Rosa hospital for 10 years, the expansion represents his last big construction project. He’s set to retire early next year after 45 years in the health field.

“For me personally, as a leader, it’s been something very, very special, 10 years of a very long career in health care,” he said. “These have definitely been the very best.”

Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College – Roseland Educational College Pledge

On Sept. 12th, leaders from Roseland, SSU, and SRJC gathered to publicly sign the College Partners Pledge. This document commits our three institutions to the educational success of Roseland students transitioning to and completing higher education in our local community. Roseland is very grateful for this important pledge with SSU and the SRJC!

Redwood Credit Union CEO Sees Opportunities in Branch and Digital Banking

After 16 years of steady growth despite natural disasters and an economic downturn, Brett Martinez has more he wants to do as the leader of Redwood Credit Union.

Martinez, 53, CEO of the Santa Rosa- based financial services nonprofit cooperative, can roll off his tongue all of Redwood’s accomplishments during his tenure. One of the biggest is the almost 10% annual membership growth. Redwood has 344,000 members and $4.7 billion of assets, making it the eighth-largest credit union in California.

The credit union has been ranked high in employee satisfaction levels among local companies by the North Bay Business Journal, as well as being named one of the healthiest credit unions in the United States, according to an independent consulting firm.

When devastating fires ignited in its backyard in October 2017, Redwood played a major philanthropic role helping to raise more than $32 million for fire relief efforts in the community.

“At the end of the day as hard as we work, we get to go home and feel good about the impact we have had on people. That’s a pretty cool feeling,” said Martinez.

But Martinez doesn’t intend to let the credit union rest on past achievements amid the competitive landscape in the financial services sector.

Martinez sat down recently with Staff Writer Bill Swindell to discuss Redwood’s future, the local economy and the overall banking sector, among other issues. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: What is your opinion on the ongoing rebuilding efforts as we approach the second anniversary of the 2017 wildfires? Do you think we’ve made sufficient progress?

A: Everybody has an opinion with the recovery. But when you compare it with other recoveries in other communities and other disasters, we’re doing a great job. We cleaned up faster than what other people did. Cleaning up faster allows you to start rebuilding quicker. There’s a lot of positive things when you are driving around those communities, houses are being rebuilt. The emotional roller coaster that goes with 5,300 homes lost. We had a housing crisis before the fires. I don’t know what’s after a housing crisis? A housing catastrophe?

I co-chaired the Economic Development Board’s Strategic Sonoma project, which was coming up with a strategic plan for the county. We were weeks away from issuing the final report, then the fires happened. We went back, and that report was rolled out in the spring of 2018. The report said we need to build 25,000 homes in the next five years. When you look at 5,300 compared to 25,000, it’s a small percentage of what needs to be done.

Q: Do you have any other specific concerns regarding fire recovery at nearly the two-year mark?

A: My big concern is October when rental insurance reimbursement for living expenses is expected to end for many fire victims. There is all this money that’s been paid for living costs and it’s going to vanish. There will be a psychological impact come October for people who haven’t completely rebuilt. I know it because I’m seeing it. I’m talking to them. They’re employees. They’re members. They’re friends. People who lost homes will say, ‘What do I do?’ That’s a big deal.

Q: How are you handling growth within Redwood amid the area’s housing challenges?

A: We bought a building and a piece of land over by the Napa airport. We’re building a 106,000-square-foot facility for 600 employees over there. That doesn’t change our footprint over here, but now we are going to have access to people that we didn’t have access to before. People who live over that way in Napa and Solano counties aren’t going to have to clog the roads coming this way to Sonoma County.

Q: You opened a branch last month in American Canyon. Are you still committed to bricks-and-mortar branches in an era of digital banking?

A: People still want to come into the branch to open an account. In San Francisco, we have a branch there on Market Street. We moved into what we call the hub, so we have a significantly larger branch and it’s full of technology. We have a plan to open some smaller branches in San Francisco, but this would be the hub. We have insurance agents, financial investment groups, a business lending group — it’s all there. It’s a full-service branch. We’re also customizing product lines such as renter’s insurance for San Francisco. We’re just rolling out a bicycle loan program because that is a big deal there.

We are opening a branch in Lake County this fall, too. We have a lot of members in Lake County and we have employees there. They have been asking us for a branch, so we are building a branch from the ground up. We also are remodeling branches, giving them a whole new look and feel with the technology.

Q: Where is Redwood in terms of members using technology to access your products and services?

A: We had 2 million logins in July, which is huge for our mobile and online platforms. And mobile is blowing past computer online logins for us. Everybody wants to do their banking in their hand. Even the security on your mobile access is better than on your laptop. Our members are able to access us more.

A lot of financial institutions put their technology systems out to third parties. We write them and we control them. We have this very cool platform in which we take all member and employee feedback. I don’t have to sit in a room and tell my staff what’s next. It’s almost like a social media site. If everybody agrees that this is the next best thing in digital that we should do — and it’s legal — it’s going to get done.

Q: What are the new efforts Redwood is touting outside of traditional banking services?

A: Insurance, interestingly enough, has had a high interest after the wildfires. Our insurance policies are going through the roof. For some people it’s about price. They were overinsured or underinsured, but nobody sat down and talked to them. We have been consulting with our members and with people who will probably move their policies to us. We are this trusted source and tell them what they need. We have multiple insurance carriers, which is a nice thing, and we have gone in and fought like crazy on our members’ behalf and really have helped a lot of people who were impacted by the fires get through that and have a better outcome.

Q: Any interest on making inroads with products for the legal cannabis sector in Northern California?

A: It’s illegal at the federal level. And it’s a cash-intensive business. There are very few things that we don’t do. But we don’t currently serve cash-intensive businesses. Our branches aren’t designed for that. If cannabis becomes legal federally and it’s no longer a cash-intensive business, then of course we will serve them here.

Q: What do you make of the state of the local banking sector? A Washington state banking company recently acquired AltaPacific Bank of Santa Rosa and the Bank of Marin bought the Bank of Napa. Do you see more consolidation here and what are the local ramifications?

A: One of the things about Redwood is that we can’t be bought. We’re the 42nd-largest credit union in the country. If there is a merger in the market, we aren’t going to be taken over by somebody else. We’re not out looking for mergers. Sometimes a merger can get you off your game, get you focused on the wrong things.

The reality in the banking industry is the bigger banks are getting bigger and the smaller community banks are shrinking. Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — they own the market share. We are growing like crazy because they are doing what they are doing, and people are looking for an alternative.

Q: You are serving this year as chairman of the board of a major trade group, the Credit Union National Association. How is that going, given that banks and credit unions have battled for years in Washington over policies, such as the federal tax-exempt status that credit unions retain? Do you see any change in this debate?

A: Credit unions own 7% to 8% of the market — assets and loans for depository institutions. Our rates are down here and banks are making money hand over fist right now. If you are paying a lot of taxes, my question is how much are you making? And we pay taxes. We pay our local taxes and the taxes stay in the community to benefit the community. The members are the ones who benefit with the lower rates and fees.

I’ll help any bank who wants to convert to a credit union. I offered that and I have never had one bank take us up on it.

Canine Companions for Independence CEO Reveals Path Toward Meeting Huge Demand for Assistance Dogs

After years in leadership positions at for-profit companies, Healdsburg native Paige Mazzoni sought an opportunity to enter the world of nonprofits.

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa-based Canine Companions for Independence was looking far and wide for a new CEO.

“We did a national search and hired somebody who lives 10 miles up the road,” said board Chairman John McKinney. “One of the things that we all recognized on the search committee was that she brought a set of marketing skills that I certainly felt would translate very effectively into fundraising.”

Canine Companions, which next year marks 45 years in business, breeds and provides medical care for dogs to become service animals, a process that involves raising, training and matching the dogs with recipients based on a number of factors, including the personality of the dog and the person, the home environment, and the particular disability of the recipient. The organization provides service dogs for 65 types of disabilities.

The dogs help their companions live more independently by assisting with physical tasks, such as picking up dropped items like a phone or keys that are out of reach, pulling open a door, switching on the light or pulling a wheelchair.

There is no charge to the person receiving a service dog.

Mazzoni celebrated her first year at the organization on Sept. 4. She came to Canine Companions for Independence from VIP Petcare, a mobile veterinary clinic, where she was the chief marketing officer. Her background also includes management roles at Sybase, Fair Isaac and the Nelson Family of Companies.

But her first break came in 1988, when she joined Oracle after graduating from Stanford University. It was at the high-tech company that she gained experience in recruiting and marketing, and learned how to write a business plan.

“Oracle is a company people love to hate, but I learned so much there,” Mazzoni said. “It was an amazing gift for me to start my career there.”

The nonprofit she leads is funded in a number of ways, largely through donors and bequests. The organization receives $300,000 annually in government funding because it provides assistance dogs to veterans.

Canine Companions has an annual budget of $29 million; operating costs each year add up to about $27 million, Mazzoni said, noting operating expenses will continue to grow.

“Just to handle operating expenses, it would be great if we could be more in the $40 million a year range,” Mazzoni said.

When the organization receives a bequest — money left to the organization from a will or estate — the amount can be significant, but it’s not a predictable source of income. She would like to get to a point where those donations can go into an interest-bearing reserve.

“In addition, I would love to raise $15 million a year through strategic partners.”

In fact, working on finding such partners is a big part of the organization’s strategic plan, which Mazzoni helped develop and led during her first year there.

“When we need to build a new early canine development center, which is a combination of breeding and vet care and a variety of things that are really critical to our program, could we have a strategic partner who would fund that whole operation, put their name on the building, and, moving forward, be a strategic partner to help in that area?” Mazzoni said. “I think those people definitely exist …. There’s a lot of people we have (in our entire circle of donors) who are willing to help a lot more than we’ve asked them to.”

Teejay Lowe, managing partner at West College Management Co. in Santa Rosa, has known Mazzoni for more than 20 years.

“She’s an exceptional executive. She’s determined, strategic and always committed to the mission of her organization,” Lowe said. “And in particular to CCI, it’s a wonderful mission and I think this is a great fit for Paige because she’s passionate about helping people and making a difference.”

Canine Companions currently breeds 800 puppies a year at its 12-acre national headquarters campus in Santa Rosa. The dogs serve all six of the organization’s campuses across the nation, and sometimes there is a waiting list that can range from two months to two years.

“I would love it if we could have a shorter waitlist for everyone all the time, but we’re a long way from that,” Mazzoni said, noting that the organization needs to build a new breeding center and find a way to breed more puppies, which also would require more trainers.

Mazzoni said the organization isn’t able to build more campuses, so she is developing other solutions.

Another reason supply can’t always keep up with demand is because not all of the dogs end up qualifying, or graduating, to become a service animal. The success rate is about 55%, Mazzoni said. All of the dogs must be highly proficient in the trained skills and tasks. They also undergo medical and temperamental screening to ensure they will be healthy, happy and appropriate in their role.

Canine Companions breeds Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and a cross of the two to be assistance dogs. Volunteers care for the newborn puppies for eight weeks before they’re turned over to a volunteer puppy raiser, who will raise the dog, providing basic obedience training and socialization skills until it’s about 1 and a half years old.

At that point, the dog is returned to one of Canine Companions’ regional campuses for six to eight months of professional training. After that, the dogs are matched with a potential recipient and undergo group training.

When the entire two-year process is complete, the magic of the match is realized at a graduation ceremony.

“You don’t think it’s going to be that emotional,” Mazzoni said. “Then you watch, and you watch these puppy raisers, who have spent a year and a half with this dog and are very bonded to this dog, hand the leash over to the person getting it. It’s just this beautiful thing.”

One of those volunteer puppy raisers is Megan McWilliams, who also has been an employee at Canine Companions for four years, serving as executive assistant to the CEO.

“I think the thing that impacted me the most about Paige is that she listened,” McWilliams said. “It’s just really nice to have somebody be caring and want to sit down with you and say, ‘How are things? How are you? What can we do different?’ She really took that to heart and has made some pretty impactful waves so far.”

St. Joseph Health Care’s Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Goes VR; Solano County’s NorthBay Healthcare, Anthem Blue Cross Ink New Deal

St. Joseph Health says virtual reality is proving successful in reducing pain and anxiety at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Meanwhile, in Solano County, NorthBay Healthcare’s patients with Anthem Blue Cross insurance are breathing a sigh of relief.

Virtual reality goggles

St. Joseph Health reports it recently purchased more than a dozen virtual reality goggles from Los Angeles-based appliedVR to help reduce anxiety and relieve pain for pediatric and obstetrics/gynecology patients, both at the hospital and doctor’s office.

Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is using the technology for its pediatric patients. “Whether they’re playing a video game or watching farm animals grazing, kids enter another world while care providers insert IVs or change dressings,” St. Joseph Health said in an announcement.

The wireless virtual reality headsets are powered by a smartphone preloaded with a variety of 360 degree, virtual reality experiences that patients can choose from to distract, manage pain or ease anxiety, according to St. Joseph Health.

Clinical trials at Cedars-Sinai and Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles have shown the goggles reduce self-reported pain by 24%; a CHLA clinical trial also showed anxiety was reduced by 31%, according to St. Joseph Health.

NorthBay Healthcare reunites

After negotiations for a new contract fell apart in May, NorthBay Healthcare and Anthem Blue Cross have agreed on a new three-year contract. Signed in August, the agreement brings both NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital back into the network, and retains NorthBay physicians and specialists, according to both parties.

The immediate impact was that the health plan members who had been seeing NorthBay physicians and specialists could again be served in NorthBay hospitals. In recent times, patients were being diverted from NorthBay to other hospitals or surgery facilities, according to NorthBay Healthcare and Anthem. The new contract covers those with PPO, EPO POS and PPO/EPO plans. Those with an Anthem Blue Cross Medicare Supplement plan options A-N were not impacted by any of the negotiations.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.