Growth served

Oroville Hospital has green light, greenbacks for expansion

Oroville Hospital CEO Robert Wentz says water inspires design features of the new five-story building.

Oroville Hospital CEO Robert Wentz says water inspires design features of the new five-story building.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Robert Wentz has the pride of an expectant parent for the expansion project at Oroville Hospital. He’s happy to show pictures—renderings, crisper than ultrasounds, from various vantages—and gush about how his child is different from others. He also can share stories of sleepless nights, uncertainty and waiting.

Soon enough, everyone in the community will see the offspring.

Oroville Hospital recently secured $200 million in bond funding to build a five-story, 165,000-square-foot tower on hospital grounds. Wentz, CEO since 1988, anticipates breaking ground in May and 30 months of construction; by late 2022, he said, “hopefully we’ll be opening our doors and ready to serve the public in that building.”

Once completed, the project will increase the hospital’s capacity to 211 patients, from its current post-fire accommodation of 153, and double its square footage. Oroville Hospital will expand its intensive care unit; add neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery to services offered; and change both the scope and design of the maternity ward.

The plan also has upgrades for the existing emergency room, pharmacy and dietary services, plus a new parking lot.

Wentz got the ball rolling six years ago. He credits Bill LeGrone—the city’s public safety chief and assistant city administrator—with getting the project over “bureaucratic hurdles.” The Oroville City Council unanimously approved it Nov. 6, by way of accepting an environmental report and authorizing the bond issuance.

Councilwoman Janet Goodson, vice mayor in 2017 and ’18, told the CN&R by phone that the expansion is “a long time coming. This community has been held captive, so to speak, because of the lack of the services that are needed.

“Our communities are growing, and the wait time for beds and emergency services has really been affected,” added Goodson, a behavioral health counselor. “This is going to expedite an individual’s healing process.”

Wentz said he considered alternate locations for the expansion, separate from the main hospital, both inside and outside city limits. He even considered moving the entire hospital outside Oroville proper.

“But the city was very supportive,” he continued. “We were able to work with them to get a project plan that worked out well for the hospital and the city.”

Keeping the hospital consolidated within its footprint, and the expansion as new construction more than renovation, offers advantages. Oroville Hospital will remain open and fully operational as the new building goes up. Patients who receive care at the medical center, which includes clinics and doctors’ offices in the vicinity, needn’t travel.

“I think the big key is access,” Wentz said. “We want to make sure we have the capacity to be able to accommodate the services that people in this community require and deserve, without having to leave town.”

Goodson noted that a third of the population in the Oroville area lives below the poverty line, “and how that equates is many do not have that transportation to go outside to the surrounding communities. This pulls the community together—this expansion project is going to catapult our community into the vibrant, healthy and prosperous community that we have deserved for a very long time.”

The project stems from a distinct vision, much of it Wentz’s. Glass, reflecting blue, dominates exterior views of the rectangular structure. The two-story main lobby contains a water wall, 30 feet in height, as one of its translucent space dividers.

Those elements and others, such as art pieces, anchor the building as specific to the city.

“I feel like Oroville is a water town, and it’s one of our great resources,” Wentz explained. “So we wanted to carry that theme of water through our architecture.”

Patient rooms will enhance rest and privacy by minimizing disturbances. Wentz said each new room is designed for a single patient only, with a windowed space enabling nurses to look in on the patient without needing to open the door.

The new tower will connect to the existing hospital through the lower two floors. The ground floor will include eight rooms for outpatient procedures—treatments, diagnostics and minor surgeries that don’t require hospitalization—as well as areas for surgical prep and recovery. The second floor will feature maternity, with 14 beds (nine for deliveries) and a garden reserved for expectant mothers and families.

Intensive care, divided into two 12-bed units, will occupy the third floor. The fourth and fifth floors will hold patient rooms, 70 total, for the medical/surgery unit.

Before the Camp Fire, Oroville Hospital had 133 beds. The California Department of Public Health granted an emergency dispensation for reopening a closed unit to increase capacity by 20.

“We’re working with them to make that more permanent, until the expansion [is complete],” Wentz said. “People always think about the crisis [itself], but it doesn’t just stop when they put the fire out.”

The fire and the Oroville Dam spillway crisis 21 months earlier prompted concerns about funding the project. After deciding to finance by way of bonds, Wentz and his consultants at Morgan Stanley had to assure potential investors.

“We had a lot of questions [asked] about the various disasters that seem like they’re always happening in Butte County,” Wentz said. “We were able to talk with them about the realities of [the disasters], and they understood this is a resilient region—and obviously this was a place where they felt comfortable putting their money.”

Oroville Hospital raised the $200 million off 48 investors’ orders placed Feb. 13.

Wentz commissioned Chico-based Modern Building Co. for the construction, in large part because brothers James and Mike Seegert—president and project manager, respectively—grew up in Oroville. He said keeping the money local matters.

Goodson agreed: “That is appropriate.”