Clinic looks back at century of service and growth
Sansum Clinic’s 100 years began after a train ride.
It was November 1920. Dr. William Sansum was traveling from Chicago with his wife and young son to Santa Barbara. He was recruited to succeed the late Nathaniel Bowditch Potter as the head of the Potter Metabolic Clinic, based at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Santa Barbara is where Dr. Sansum made history as the first American physician to develop insulin and successfully treat a diabetic patient.
Today, his legacy continues at Sansum Clinic, one of the oldest nonprofit outpatient clinics in California.
The multi-specialty clinic is celebrating its 100th anniversary by calling attention to its history of advancements and accomplishments. (No celebratory gatherings are planned this year because of COVID-19.)
Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, Sansum CEO and chief medical officer, credits Sansum’s long-time success to its original idea that better healthcare results from doctors working together.
“I think it’s an efficient way to provide high quality care,” Dr. Ransohoff told the News-Press.
Sansum Clinic’s history is actually the story of two clinics: Sansum Medical Center and Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic, which merged in 1998. The name Sansum-Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic was shortened in 2006 to Sansum Clinic.
Santa Barbara Medical Clinic was started in 1921 by Dr. Rexwald Brown, who believed a team approach could pool resources, skills and costs, resulting in better healthcare. That was a novel idea at the time, and the clinic was on State Street near Sola Street. In 1967, it moved to 215 Pesetas Lane, and in 1973, it became the nonprofit Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic.
The Sansum Medical Clinic side of the story starts at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
In 1925, Cottage Hospital closed the Potter Metabolic Clinic. The closure and other concerns about restricted resources for Dr. Sansum’s diabetes research led him to begin Sansum Medical Clinic in 1928 at the hospital.
Dr. Sansum hired eight physicians, including diabetes specialists, a biochemist to head up insulin research, a cardiologist, a pediatrician, a dietitian, and an ear, nose and throat specialist.
The clinic became fully independent from the hospital when Dr. Sansum moved in 1931 to a nearby new building on West Pueblo Street and hired more staff.
In 1938, Sansum Medical Clinic’s Dr. Alfred Koehler proved to be far ahead of his time. He showed the relationship between cholesterol and arteriosclerosis.
In 1944, Dr. Sansum started what is today called the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, but the Santa Barbara center isn’t affiliated with Sansum Clinic.
Dr. Sansum died at age 64 in 1948. Six physicians bought the clinic from the Sansum estate and continued the partnership in his name.
Sansum Medical Clinic continued to expand and make history. In 1960, the clinic’s Dr. Casimir Domz pioneered the first successful bone marrow transplant.
In the 1960s, Sansum Medical Clinic recruited specialists to address the needs of the post-war baby boom.
It wasn’t too difficult to recruit them, then or now.
“Santa Barbara is such a wonderful place to live. We have that going for us,” Dr. Ransohoff told the News-Press. “The reputation of healthcare in Santa Barbara is very high.”
In 1976, the clinic’s old Pueblo Street building was replaced with a $3 million, 65,000-square foot structure on the same site.
After the 1998 merger of Sansum Medical Clinic and Santa Barbara Medical Foundation Clinic, the clinic continued to expand. In 2012, the clinic merged with the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.
In 2014, the Sansum Clinic Medical and Surgical Center and Sansum Clinic Elings Eye Center opened on Foothill Road. The surgical center is fully-accredited for outpatient surgery, and patients can stay there for 23 hours with overnight accommodations, Dr. Ransohoff noted.
In 2018, Sansum Clinic and Cancer Foundation of Santa Barbara joined forces to create the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center at Sansum Clinic. The center is at a state-of-the-art, three-floor facility near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Dr. Ransohoff pointed to the cancer center’s sophisticated equipment and skilled staff.
“People don’t have to go out of town to get highly sophisticated radiation therapy,” he said. “We hired the first fellowship-trained oncologic surgeon in Santa Barbara. …
“People don’t have to travel to get world-class health care,” he said.
Sansum Clinic has grown so much that it would be difficult to find a single Santa Barbara site that could house all of its services, Dr. Ransohoff said. “We think we have more than 300,000 square feet devoted to medical care.”
During the 2010s, Sansum’s Pesetas Lane site underwent a $7 million renovation project. The Urgent Care Center moved there from its smaller facilities on Hitchcock Way.
“It made a huge difference,” Dr. Ransohoff said. “We can do a lot of interventions that we couldn’t do at Hitchcock.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sansum Clinic has embraced telehealth, allowing patients to chat with their doctors via video conferencing platforms on their home computers, tablets or smartphones. Dr. Ransohoff said 20 to 25 percent of Sansum Clinic’s visits are now being done by telehealth.
Dr. Ransohoff said he believes Dr. William Sansum would be proud today of the clinic that bears his name.
“We would show him the endocrinology department and our six endocrinologists, and he would marvel at what is being done in terms of continuous glucose monitors and all the medication,” Dr. Ransohoff said. “I think he would be amazed by all the departments.”