Saturday, May 22, 2010

Marin grand jury gives San Rafael health campus a rave review

Nels Johnson
Posted: 05/21/2010 01:57:34 PM PDT

The county's new Health and Wellness Campus in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood is a stunning success, although several improvements can be made, according to the Marin civil grand jury.

The jury issued a glowing 17-page report calling the operation "an innovative commitment to health care," one of "Marin's best kept secrets" and "an innovative and successful approach to providing health and human services to the citizens of Marin County" that is "worthy of emulation by communities throughout the nation."

It was a far cry from another jury's dire warning in 2007 that unanswered questions about plans for the facility were so disturbing that the project should be shelved for further study.

But county supervisors pressed ahead anyway, spending $62 million - including $43 million in tobacco lawsuit settlement funds - to buy and rehabilitate a 6.5-acre, six-building complex formerly housing the Industrial Light & Magic operation of filmmaker George Lucas at the corner of Kerner and Bellam boulevards. The campus opened in fall 2008, housing county social and health staffers as well as community clinic and private service providers.

The 2009-10 grand jury couldn't be happier with the result.

"We believe the design and layout of the campus not only meets the needs of clients, but also provides them with a sense of dignity and respect," the jury said. "Having numerous health and social service programs housed in one location has proven advantageous to clients as well as providers."

Still, the panel concluded some improvements can be made, including mounting a better marketing campaign that publicizes the facility and its services. In addition, jurors said the county should launch a shuttle service from communities across Marin, enabling more clients to get to the facility easily.

The jury, noting it was difficult for some to find their way around the sprawling complex, also called for better signage, expansion of the role of a community advisory group, and development of "cooperative arrangements" with the Marin City Health and Wellness Center, especially because few Marin City residents use services at the San Rafael campus. Parking issues should be monitored, especially since a new grocery market has moved in nearby, the jury said.

Larry Meredith, head of the county Department of Health and Human Services, said he was "overwhelmed at how positive" the jury's report was.

"We're delighted they found that the campus is an important addition to Marin, and we've got many to thank, including the supervisors, the county administrator, the Department of Public Works" among them, he said.

The grand jury report "validates our planning and our investment in the health and welfare" of Marin residents, he said.

On related matters, the jury lauded a county plan to shift its gynecological services program to the Marin Community Clinic. "The realignment of GYN services will enable the county to save money without adversely affecting essential patient services," the panel said.

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