Sutter Health Bringing New Medical Complex to Expanding Community

When Rebecca Plunk walks into the cavernous building at 6000 State Farm Drive in Rohnert Park, she sees much more than the 13,500-square-foot space with an empty concrete floor, web of silvery insulated ducts and conduits in the ceiling.

Plunk, Sutter Health’s senior construction project manager in the North Bay, sees what by next spring is planned to be a thriving new medical facility for Sonoma County’s third largest city — and long one of its fastest growing communities.

The new medical base under construction inside a former Pac Bell call center will have urgent and primary care, imaging services including CT scan and ultrasound, and rotating specialty services such as obstetrics.

The project has special meaning for Plunk, 41, who moved to Rohnert Park with her young family in 2017 and currently lives in a new development near Sonoma State University.

Plunk’s neighborhood is one of several new housing projects added in Rohnert Park in recent years, raising demand for medical services.

“Rohnert Park has experienced a lot of growth very quickly,” Plunk said. “We’d like to have some really great medical care here.”

Sutter’s move into Rohnert Park makes it the latest in a series of medical providers, including Kaiser Permanente and Petaluma Health Center, that have established hubs in the city, home to more than 44,000.

On Monday, Plunk and other Sutter Health officials and their construction and architecture partners toured the project site in hard hats and safety vests to showcase the start of construction of the health care giant’s Rohnert Park Care Center.

As workers with Layton Construction deepened plumbing trenches in the concrete floor, Erin Neal, Sutter’s CEO of outpatient services in the greater San Francisco area, examined medical building’s large floor plan.

Neal played a central role restoring a major Sutter medical complex in Santa Rosa that was shuttered for two months after the Tubbs Fire.

The 2017 fire torched oak and redwood trees around that three-story complex on Airway Drive, blew out or damaged 262 windows and caused smoke damage.

Neal said she’s been searching for property in the Rohnert Park community since before the pandemic, for about 5 years. She said Sutter currently houses four physicians in a small medical office building at Snyder Lane and Rohnert Park Expressway.

Those physicians will be brought into the new medical complex once it’s finished. They’ll be joined by four new physicians, to be recruited by the affiliated Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods.

“This is like a dream come true for me to get Rohnert Park in place,” Neal said. “I’ve worked with amazing physicians over at Snyder Lane that are in exam rooms that are too small and people are crowded, as well.”

Big investment

Construction of the new Rohnert Park Care Center is a $16.9 million investment, including $10 million alone for construction.

The site on State Farm Drive is mere yards away from a complex that includes Kaiser’s medical offices, as well as the Petaluma Health Center’s Rohnert Park clinic.

But Rohnert Park residents who are not part of either of those systems must commute for medical care. Neal said Sutter examined its “footprint” and found that many Sutter patients struggle with traffic.

“We’re having a hard time getting patients in, whether it’s for imaging, labs. We just know this is a growing community and we need to expand with it,” she said.

“We’ve done a lot of research … we look at ZIP codes, and we have a lot those patients and they’re having to travel into San Francisco and even into Healdsburg,” Neal added. “We’re looking at increasing primary care — it’s really difficult to get a primary care doctor.”

Rohnert Park’s growth over the past decade has outpaced most other local cities. It was not designed to be so sudden.

Nearly a quarter century ago, the city established its growth management program, which seeks to cap annual population growth at 1 percent. That translates into 225 market-rate housing permits per year.

But between 2000 and 2014, only a handful of “infill” homes were built in Rohnert Park, said Rohnert Park Mayor Susan Adams, who served on the planning commission for 14 years before she was elected to the city council in 2018.

Adams said the Great Recession and housing crisis more than a decade ago put the breaks on new construction. After 2014, housing construction ramped up, she said.

Between 2015 and 2023, building permits have been advanced for 1,957 new housing units that are subject to the city’s growth management ordinance, according to city records. That number excludes most affordable and infill housing units.

During her time on the planning commission, Adams said she approved “thousands” of housing units but the historic economic downturn brought everything to a “grinding halt.”

“We were all thrown into a buzz saw,” she said.

Adams said the city’s own general plan notes that health care is a growing industry.

“We’re thrilled that Sutter is coming into Rohnert Park to make this improvement,” she said.

Transition to a new era

The building that will house Sutter’s new medical facility was built in 1983, one of three 82,000-square-foot buildings erected by Pacific Bell as part of a $20 million investment in a Rohnert Park base.

Kaiser and Petaluma Health Center’s medical offices are located in a separate building, 5900 State Farm Drive, which was also part of the former Pacific Bell complex.

The repurposing of those buildings heralds another transition in the city, away from the telecom office complexes that helped usher in the North Bay’s tech industry decades ago and establish Rohnert Park as a jobs center.

Two other examples stand out: the city’s slow-moving bid to transform the sprawling former State Farm campus into a sort of downtown district; and the redevelopment at Sonoma Mountain Village, or SOMO Village, the former 175-acre Lucent Technologies campus on the city’s eastern edge.

The addition of new medical faculties reflects the evolution of a city that is growing up, with more young families and aging residents needing care.

Sutter’s broader move into town also comes at a critical moment for the health care field, said Samantha Malm, chief medical officer for Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods.

“There’s definitely a shortage of health clinicians to take care of people,” Malm said. “We see that everywhere. We have plans to expand primary care and specialty services as well. But a big focus is on primary care because that’s where the biggest needs seem to be.”

Plunk, who joined Sutter’s facilities construction team in 2020, has worked on key projects such as recent expansions at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, Sonoma County’s newest hospital, opened in 2014.

That work included adding 40 new patient beds to the hospital and expanding the emergency department from 12 to 34 beds. Plunk is also working on ongoing infrastructure and security upgrades at Novato Community Hospital.

But she said she’s particularly excited about the project in Rohnert Park, which is only minutes from where she her husband and three school-age children live.

She said that like many others, she often finds herself delaying such things as annual exams just to avoid the hassle of traffic. Having urgent care, imaging and lab services so close to home will allow her to breathe a “sigh of relief,” she said.

“Being able to receive quality care close to home and the children’s schools is going to make a huge difference,” she wrote in an email.