Forty-six years after Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital was built, hospital officials, dignitaries and members of the community gathered Thursday evening to celebrate a groundbreaking ceremony for a new facility.

The need for the $103 million project, scheduled to take 24 months to complete, arose from a state requirement that new seismic standards be met by 2013. Although a seismic retrofit was briefly considered, Cottage Health System, which acquired the hospital in 1995, deemed new construction a more beneficial alternative considering the number of patients treated each year at the facility, 351 S. Patterson Ave.

“The new Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital is going to be a beautiful facility, but more important, it was designed and will be built to meet the needs of the community,” said Diane Wisby, the hospital’s vice president.

The parking lot already has been moved across Patterson Avenue from the original building, and cranes tower above the footings of the hospital’s future site.

The current eight-bed emergency room often reaches capacity, but the new facility will have 20 ER beds. The number of surgical suites will increase to six from four, and there will be 44 fully private medical/surgical rooms, eight intensive care rooms, a dedicated endoscopy suite and four hyperbaric oxygen chambers. The birthing center was moved to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital last year.

Wisby said all of the new hospital’s rooms will be fully private, following the current standard in patient care. Another feature will be what’s termed “key adjacencies” — strategic placement of certain types of rooms near services designed to eliminate duplication of testing facilities and unnecessary movement of patients from their rooms.

“We want staff to come to the patients,” Wisby said.

Although state-mandated seismic upgrades initiated the project, no state funding will be provided to build the new hospital. A fundraising campaign generated $4 million — with $6 million more hoped for by the time the project is completed — and the remainder will be raised through hospital operation revenues and interest-free bonds.

The Magnificent Seven

Just before chrome-plated spades were used to ceremonially fling dirt in honor of the project’s initiation, Dr. Chris Flynn, Goleta Valley’s chief of staff, gave special thanks to one of the original founders of the hospital — Dr. Jim Fisher.

Hospital officials and other dignitaries fling some dirt in breaking ground on the new Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.

Hospital officials and other dignitaries fling some dirt in breaking ground on the new Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. (Ben Preston / Noozhawk photo)

Fisher was part of the San Marcos Association in the early 1960s, a group of seven doctors wanting to establish a community hospital in the Goleta Valley who got together to turn the goal into reality. During the past few years, he has been involved in the fundraising effort.

Fisher is well familiar with fundraising, having been directly involved in the trials and tribulations that accompanied getting the original hospital started in the mid-1960s.

“All our assets got put on the line to keep this place going,” he said.

Fisher explained that when the hospital opened in 1964, its original owners — a Los Angeles-based investment group — were having difficulty attracting more than 15 patients a day, causing a loss of nearly $10,000 per month.

“They were all fighters — military vets,” Fisher said of the San Marcos Association members. “I was the youngest and had just come to town and started a practice.”

One of the founding physicians, Dr. Paul Ashton, had served in World War II. When the Bataan army hospital where he was chief of surgery fell into Japanese hands, he was imprisoned as a POW for three years and endured the Bataan Death March. Fisher himself was a veteran, having served as an Air Force flight surgeon in Korea in the early 1960s after finishing his internship at Cottage Hospital.

Initially, the seven doctors of the San Marcos Association were in the process of building a hospital on Calle Real, across the freeway from the then-several-years-old San Marcos High School. They ended up buying the Goleta facility that today stands at the corner of Hollister and Patterson avenues when the investment group that owned it went bankrupt.

The group moved in on Jan. 1, 1966, a date Fisher said also was the start of the federal Medicare program. Although the next several years were tough — at that time, the ER was staffed 24 hours a day with every doctor required to take a turn in the rotation — the original seven doctors were able to attract 20 more to their cadre.

Fisher, who retired in 1998, served as chairman of Goleta Valley’s board of directors from 1973 until 1980.

The Big Picture

Cottage Health System is poised to open the first phase of its Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital renovation — specifically, two patient treatment pavilions as well as the new facility’s main entrance and diagnostic and treatment center — in late 2011. Started in fall 2005, the estimated cost of the project comes in at more than $700 million. A fundraising campaign that wrapped up at the end of 2008 accounted for $110 million.

Seismic Responsibility

Drawing upon the experience of a rather bad seismic decade, Flynn noted that bringing the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital to a higher standard would increase community security in the event of a major earthquake. Many care providers wheeling patients from the ER to the critical care unit in the existing facility have had their caster-clad gurneys tilt abruptly toward the south wall of the corridor — what many say is the result of an quake that hit Goleta in 1978.

“The recent earthquakes in Haiti in January and Chile in February have graphically illustrated the impact an earthquake can have on a health-care facility,” Flynn said. “Although Chile suffered a more intense earthquake, its seismic standards were much more stringent, and there was less damage.”

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at