A long-anticipated new Santa Paula Hospital would be built alongside Highway 126 on the city’s edge in a plan involving the landowner, county officials and a developer.
Limoneira, the large Santa Paula citrus grower and real estate developer, issued a letter of intent disclosing its tentative agreement for selling 25 acres to another developer who would build a 49-bed hospital and a 71,000-square-foot office building for clinics and other services.
The county would lease the new buildings to replace the 60-year-old Santa Paula Hospital, which does not meet California earthquake standards.
The agreement is nonbinding and hurdles remain. But the possible sale and the partnership between the county, developer Pacific Coast Investments and Limoneira represent a way to keep a full-service hospital in the Santa Clara Valley, said Barry Zimmerman, director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency.
“This is our best option to build a new hospital,” Zimmerman said, adding that the facility could be built long before seismic requirements end the current hospital’s operations in 2030. “It’s reasonable to say it could be done in the next five years.”
Set atop a hill in Santa Paula, the current hospital has lived a roller-coaster existence. Once privately owned, the facility closed in 2003 with a debt of more than $10 million. The county acquired the hospital and reopened it in 2006.
Though county officials offer reassurances, area residents have long worried the hospital will be shuttered. Their fears were fanned by the brief closure of the facility’s birth unit two years ago. Some people also worry the hospital will be replaced by a clinic or a barebones hospital that functions primarily to stabilize patients and transfer them elsewhere.
But Zimmerman said the county plans for a full-service hospital at the new site with an emergency room, operating rooms, an intensive care unit, a birth unit and 49 licensed beds – same as at the current hospital.
The clinic complex with family medicine, pediatrics and speciality care would be likely built before the hospital and house Santa Clara Valley offices for county agencies, including behavioral health, public health and human services.
The hospital complex would sit across the highway from the new Harvest at Limoneira housing development. Its possible neighboring pieces of land could be used for a nursing home, an assisted living complex, apartments and health-related businesses.
Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, said he hopes to announce the official sale of the land within the next several months. He said he couldn’t disclose the terms but noted the 25 acres is part of a larger parcel valued at $15 million or more.
The sale hinges partly on discussions between the county and the developer about the design and engineering of the new facilities and financial terms of the lease. The county Board of Supervisors and Santa Paula City Council would have to approve the project.
Edwards has his own connection to the hospital. His father served as longtime medical director of the Ventura County Medical Center and played a pivotal role in the reopening of the Santa Paula hospital in 2003. He said momentum for the new hospital is building.
“The stars have just aligned to allow us to get to this point,” he said. “… I feel very strongly it’s going to happen.”
Zimmerman said more details will come in presentations to the community and City Council. In previous community meetings, many area residents voiced support for a hospital alongside the highway and accessible to people from Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru.
“The community said we want to have a full-service hospital. This is a whole complex. All of the services will be on one campus,” said Laura Espinosa, president of the Santa Paula Latino Town Hall organization. “I’m very happy.”
Santa Paula City Councilwoman Leslie Cornejo also praised the possibility of a new hospital but said more information is needed.
“The devil is in the details of course,” she said. “I think it would bring many young professionals to our city, purchasing homes and prove a huge boon to the economy.”
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0255.