A distinctive feature of early American culture was the “barn-raising,” where members of a farming community pooled their labor and resources to raise a new barn, then celebrated the accomplishment with a party.
Echoes of that history were heard Monday afternoon in Sonora at a gathering to celebrate the community efforts that produced an impressive new Health Pavilion and Diana J. White Cancer Institute at Adventist Health Sonora, full of high tech medical equipment and carefully designed to create an efficient and ergonomic environment conducive to its healing mission.
This modern barn-raising was funded, in part, by community donations of more than $5 million that were collected over the span of less than four years. The involvement of the entire community was evidenced by the use of local contractors throughout the project, including Mother Lode neighbors from across the river. Calaveras subcontractors included Distinctive Metals of Angels Camp, which provided the steel bones at the heart of the structure, and Cisco Fire Systems of Copperopolis installed the fire prevention systems inside.
Sonora contractors included California Gold Development, Plum Construction, J. Hart Plumbing and Solomon’s Gardens.
Darrin Mills, president of Distinctive Metals, recounted how much his crew enjoyed working on the project with the extra motivation and pride that went into building a place “where any of us might someday seek treatment.”
The statistics are impressive. Sixty-four thousand square feet of space spread over three stories were built at a total cost of about $40 million. That space will house the staff and high-tech machinery required for three principal types of health care: rehabilitative primary care; diagnostic imaging; and the Diana J. White Cancer Institute, named for the matriarch of a Tuolumne County family that donated more than $3 million to the project. The cutting-edge technology found throughout the building includes some of the most modern diagnostic imaging machines used to peer inside patients to detect injuries or cancers, determine bone density or produce ultrasound photos for expectant parents.
The broad range of medical specialties and treatments that will be available in the building is equally impressive, attendees at Monday’s ribbon-cutting agreed. Rehabilitative care and therapy will include everything from helping patients recover from all forms of trauma, to occupational therapy for injured workers and even speech therapy for children. One small but important detail is a demonstration kitchen, where patients with mobility or other limitations can learn and practice some of the most basic tasks necessary to achieve real independence by using specially designed kitchen equipment to prepare their own meals.
Cancer care and treatment will include chemotherapy infusion at 12 private bays large enough to accommodate both patients and family or friends supporting them. It also includes state-of-the-art radiation treatment that can pinpoint the exact location of a tumor and its precise dimensions, then deliver cancer-killing doses of radiation to that location without damaging the healthy tissue surrounding it.
Every aspect of the building reveals the care that has been taken to consult with former patients and medical staff in developing workplace designs and furnishings that help create and maintain the positive and nurturing environment that is understood in modern medical practice to be a crucial part of harnessing the patient’s own healing powers to assist in their recovery. This healing ambiance is highlighted by photos of area scenery that are the work of local artists, as well as wood paneling, walls of glass and a rooftop garden terrace that showcases the surrounding hills and mountains.
The celebration attracted about 500 community members, some who donated, some who designed and built, some who will receive care within its walls and some who will provide that care. Speakers at the celebration included current and former members of Adventist hospital management, as well as the leaders of each medical specialty that will be practiced there. Their remarks, delivered in a large tent pitched in the parking lot adjoining the new building, were punctuated by the occasional pop of balloons hung at the entrance to the tent that were jostled by the wind. The laughs provoked by those interruptions revealed the joy shared by all who had participated in this 21st century barn-raising experience.
The addition of this new facility to the medical resources of the Mother Lode is part of a larger story about how this region has managed to buck the trend of declining rural medical resources throughout the United States. That point was reinforced by the announcement that Sonora’s cancer care center was recently awarded Quality Oncology Practice Initiative certification for meeting the high standards of a program affiliated with the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The QOPI certification has been awarded to only 290 cancer treatment practices out of more than 900 that have registered throughout the United States. The Diana J. White Cancer Institute joins a select group of only 13 other cancer centers in California that have obtained the QOPI certification.
“We couldn’t be more proud to receive this certification as we prepare to open the Diana J. White Cancer Institute,” said Adventist Health Sonora President Michelle Fuentes. “The oncology staff has worked hard to develop a program that delivers the highest quality care for cancer patients in our community. As they move into their new, state-of-the-art cancer institute, they will be even better equipped to provide this level of care for their patients.”
A new cancer treatment center at Sutter Amador Hospital in Jackson and the negotiation of a new long-term lease for the Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas are other recent markers of that success story in the rural communities of the Mother Lode.
The importance of this trend is highlighted by the fact that hospitals in Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties are among the largest employers in each county. Moreover, in addition to providing important services to residents, they are critical parts of the infrastructure that can help attract new residents, businesses and industry to the area. Viewed in that context, this week’s celebration in Sonora heralded the addition of much more than a functional structure to the wealth and well-being of the entire Mother Lode.