The Petaluma Health Care District, a public agency which owns Petaluma Valley Hospital and leases its operation to St. Joseph Health, is asking Petaluma City Council to bring a new health care partner to town by approving the development of a Walgreens at the corner of Lynch Creek Way and North McDowell Boulevard.
Approval for the Walgreens project requires addressing two main issues: (1) amendment to the general plan to rezone the property from business to mixed use; and (2) a pharmacy pick up window. The Walgreens will improve community health and the local economy and help preserve the viability of needed local health services, including Petaluma Valley Hospital and its Emergency Room. The district purchased the Lynch Creek parcel from Friedman's more than 30 years ago with the intent to build a medical office building. Local physicians ended up building their own office space, thus alleviating the need to develop more office space. Today Petaluma has an overabundance of office space with a vacancy rate of approximately 25 percent. Petaluma has 37 percent more office space per capita than Santa Rosa and 33 percent more than Rohnert Park. Given these market conditions, from a fiduciary responsibility, it wouldn't make sense for the district to develop the parcel as was originally intended in different market conditions. If needs change in the future, a medical office building can be developed on the district-owned Petaluma Valley Hospital campus.
In addition to competitive prescription costs, Walgreens offers innovative retail pharmaceutical services that do not exist in Petaluma, such as a transitional care program partnering with local health care providers and Petaluma Valley Hospital, designed to ease a patient's transition from hospital to home and help reduce preventable hospital readmissions through medication adherence and medication safety. The program includes pharmacist consultation and follow up, and a bedside delivery service for discharging patients. The program will lower the overall costs of medical care for individuals and Petaluma Valley Hospital by decreasing preventable hospital re-admissions. The majority of preventable hospital readmissions are linked to patients not taking their medications as prescribed.
Walgreens' pharmacy pick up window offers easy access to medication and pharmacy health services, especially for seniors, the ill, those with limited mobility, and adults with sick children. A pharmacy pick up window would significantly reduce the physical burden, discomfort and inconvenience for these individuals. Moreover, the pharmacy pick-up window will help reduce the spread of infections and disease to the general public. This is a major public heath issue, particularly during the flu season.
Walgreens reports a measurable amount of Petaluma residents are driving to Cotati and other neighboring cities to shop at Walgreens. The Petaluma Health Center alone wrote 8,837 prescriptions to Walgreens in 2012 and has written 7,558 prescriptions so far this year, a 28 percent increase.
The gas emissions generated from Petaluma residents traveling outside of Petaluma is greater than what is projected utilizing the pharmacy pick up window. The district is asking the city council to use their discretion, evaluate the benefit, and not view a pharmacy pick up window as a fast food drive through.
The district's mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of the residents of southern Sonoma County and ensure access to needed medical services and programs in Petaluma. In the last decade, the district has invested more than $12 million to support local health services and programs, specifically Petaluma Valley Hospital, Petaluma Hospice, physician recruitment and retention, Petaluma Health Center, and local nonprofit groups.
As the population ages, and many more residents have access to affordable health care, the need for community partnerships and additional pharmacy services will increase. This public-private venture to develop a Walgreens will bring needed pharmaceutical services to Petaluma that currently do not exist, will generate significant funds that the district can re-invest into the community's health, and it keeps tax revenue in Petaluma.
(Ramona Faith is the Chief Executive Officer of the Petaluma Health Care District.)