The history of formal medical facilities in Petaluma dates back to 1912 and has included four main hospitals: Petaluma General, Hillside, Hillcrest and Petaluma Valley.
Elsa Little opened Petaluma General in 1912 at Sixth and I streets. In its day, it was regarded as one of the finest facilities in the state for a city of Petaluma?s size and had a high national rating.
Little operated Petaluma General for seven years, until it was purchased by Dr. S. Z. Peoples and Dr. A. G. Lumsden in 1919. These physicians jointly managed the hospital until Peoples became sole operator in the mid-1920s.
Peoples made substantial improvements to the hospital, but in 1932 he leased it to William Millmeister and his wife in order to devote his time to private practice.
When the Millmeisters assumed operation of Petaluma General, this ended a brief period of competition from Hillside Hospital, which was opened in the late 1920s in a Victorian structure on Kentucky Street by Ms. Millmeister?s parents, Charles Haderman and his wife. The Millmeisters later assumed ownership of Hillside from the Hadermans and operated it until they leased Petaluma General, at which time Hillside closed. During its brief existence, Hillside also had an excellent reputation.
The Millmeisters ran the hospital during its golden years, a 30-year period when it took care of the medical needs of the entire community, which had not yet grown to be a city. Originally located in a small house like Hillside, General gradually expanded to include an adjoining home, which eventually was connected to the original building by an additional structure.
The Millmeisters administered the hospital until the mid-1960s, when it was handed over to John Prescott. Joseph Wilner was the final owner of the hospital before it was sold to the Petaluma Hospital District, which was formed in 1946 and later became known as the Petaluma Health Care District.
A board of directors oversaw the Petaluma Hospital District, which in 1957 added a new hospital, Hillcrest. Although no serious competition developed between Hillcrest and General, a rift arose in the late 1960s that led to the hospital district purchasing General, with 33 beds, in 1974 and closing it later that year. General was torn down in January 1975 to make room for a cluster of apartments.
In response to a growing population and increasing public need, Petaluma Valley Hospital opened in 1980, replacing Hillcrest. In 1997, the Petaluma Health Care District signed a contract with St. Joseph Health System of Sonoma County, stipulating that SJHS would operate the hospital for the next 20 years. The contract was maintained during a due-diligence review in 2006.
Another significant health care facility, the Petaluma Health Center, was established in 1994 to provide primary medical care and mental health services, primarily for people with little or no health insurance.