Willits, CA – In line with its mission to support programs that improve healthcare for the community of Willits and northern Mendocino County, the Frank R. Howard Foundation recently donated the old hospital property at 1 Madrone Street to MCHC Health Centers.
Foundation Executive Director Arnie Mello explained that once the hospital moved from 1 Madrone Street to its new facility at 1 Marcela Drive in 2015, the Foundation hoped to repurpose the existing building for something related to healthcare, but potential buyers fell out one by one, in part due to the scale of existing improvements that any potential project would need to retrofit. So, the Foundation decided to demolish the improvements with the hope of making the property appeal to a broader market segment. Indeed, during demolition, the Foundation received an unsolicited offer to purchase the property for a residential housing project.
Mello said, “We had another offer on the table when we heard that MCHC was looking to expand. After talking to [MCHC CEO] Rod Grainger about MCHC’s plans, we brought the idea of donating the land to our board. The board enthusiastically supported the move and here we are. We’re very happy that it turned out the way it did.”
MCHC has been providing healthcare in Mendocino County for more than 30 years. It started as a small, single clinic with 13 employees. Today, MCHC has grown to more than 300 employees with centers in Willits, Ukiah, and Lakeport.
Throughout its history, MCHC has continually grown and expanded its services to meet the needs of local residents. It opened Little Lake Health Center on Hazel Street in Willits in 2002, with help from the Foundation, and has been supporting the Willits community ever since.
Mello noted that MCHC fits a “much-needed niche” when it comes to healthcare in Willits, providing outpatient medical, dental, and behavioral health services. And he is eager to see how MCHC continues to grow to meet the evolving needs of the community.
“MCHC has been a great partner,” Mello said. “The whole reason we exist is to improve the lives of the members of our community by providing the best possible healthcare we can provide. This partnership with MCHC helps us achieve this.”
Grainger says he is grateful for the Foundation’s generosity and humbled by their trust in MCHC to continue the legacy of care started by the Howard family and sustained by the Foundation all these years. He is also excited about the possibilities that await.
During the next 12 months, MCHC plans to hold visioning sessions with Willits community members to hear ideas on the most urgent and important healthcare needs.
Grainger said, “We want to do what’s best for the community in meeting its healthcare needs, defining healthcare in the broadest possible sense. In the short term, we can expand existing services, doing the work we already know how to do. But for the future, we are open to all sorts of options.”
Grainger draws inspiration from the Howard Family and the Foundation’s history of creating a remarkable healthcare facility in a town that by all measures would be an unlikely home to such “a technical marvel.”
The story of Frank R. Howard is familiar to many Willits residents, and after the 2003 movie Seabiscuit, to people all over the world. In 1926, Frank R. Howard died at the age of 14 from injuries he sustained in a car accident. His father, Charles, believed Frank would have survived had there been a hospital nearby to provide emergency care.
In the aftermath of his son’s death, Charles Howard financially supported a community effort to build a local hospital. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held during the 1927 Willits Frontier Days, and the Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital cared for its first patient in 1928. In 2015, in partnership with Adventist Health, the Foundation supported the opening of a new critical-access hospital in Willits.
The Frank R. Howard Foundation was established in 1987 to guarantee high-quality hospital services for Willits and Northern Mendocino County. Its mission has since expanded to promote and support programs that maintain, as well as improve, healthcare for the community of Willits and the entire Northern Mendocino County area.
Mello said, “The Foundation exists because of the support we have from this little community. It’s extraordinary. We feel fortunate to have such an engaged and supportive community.”
MCHC Health Centers includes Hillside Health Center and Dora Street Health Center in Ukiah, Little Lake Health Center in Willits, and Lakeview Health Center in Lakeport. It is a community-based and patient-directed organization that provides comprehensive primary healthcare services as well as supportive services such as education and translation that promote access to healthcare.