Contributing Writer

Kaiser Permanente officials have reiterated that the completion of a new facility in Ontario and the replacement of an existing hospital in Fontana were on schedule, as the non-profit health insurer expands its presence in San Bernardino County.

Further, officials expressed confidence the $1.2 billion Kaiser was spending on the two projects would give the Inland region’s economy a boost.

“It’s important to the community that we build these hospitals,” Theresa M. Ashby, Kaiser’s transition director, told members of the Inland Empire chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women at their monthly luncheon on Sept. 15 in Ontario.

Theresa M. Ashby walks through the Ontario Vineyard Medical Center, which is set to open in 2011.

She said, while the hospitals were important economically, they were also needed to serve Kaiser’s 410,000 members in San Bernardino County. With a 14.8 percent unemployment rate in Inland Southern California, she also boosted about the 620 construction jobs created with both projects.

Ashby and Chontelle Coerper, assistant transition director, are in charge of overseeing the transition and start-up activities for the two hospitals. The Ontario Vineyard Medical Center was expected to open by September 2011, with the expansion of Kaiser Permanente in Fontana finished by fall 2013.

When the 386,000-square-foot Ontario hospital opens, at least one economist believes its economic impact will go beyond the 650 new hospital jobs it will create.

“Hospitals are a key economic driver in our area, because they bring money to us from the outside world,” said John Husing, a Redlands-based economist. “It will help our economy as their employees buy (goods and services) from within our area. That has a big impact.”
The new $550 million Ontario facility will be home to about 650 jobs.
Husing said along with employees a new hospital will attract more patients and the dollars they spend on care, which will also have quite a large economic impact.

Ashby said she knows of two employees, who as a result of working on the Ontario project, have bought homes in the area. Once the hospital opens next September, Ashby was confident the region would benefit from employees, patients, and their families who fill up at local gas stations, eat at restaurants, or stay at hotels.

She also joked about her own contribution to the local economy with her regular stops at convenience stores and doughnuts shops.

Theresa M. Ashby tours one of the operating rooms at Kaiser Permanente’s Ontario Vineyard Medical Center, which is under construction.

“There is spillover from people spending money locally, but it’s hard to measure that impact,” said Kaiser spokeswoman Jennifer Resch-Silvestri.

According to figures compiled by the Sacramento-based California Hospital Association, hospitals are more than just a place where sick people go for care. They also play an important role in the state’s economic health.

As reported in the CHA’s Special Report on California Hospitals and the Economy, hospitals had a $146 billion impact on the state’s economy in 2008, the most current year of available data. Hospitals also employ more than 400,000 workers and spend more than $57 billion on goods and billion on employee compensation, the report found.

Construction of the $550 million medical center in Ontario is 90 percent complete, she said. The five-story, 224-bed hospital is located at 2295 S. Vineyard Ave.

The hospital will have a 36-bed emergency room, two patient towers to house diagnostic, treatment as well as patient rooms. It will also include an attached three-story medical office building to provide specialty services, including cardiology, OB/GYN, infectious diseases, orthopedics and urology.

Ashby said the emergency rooms at both hospitals were designed for safety and to decrease a patient’s stress as much as possible, with nurses stations situated at an angle to allow them to see into a patient’s room at all times.

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