In late September, with the snip of a ribbon, history was made locally at the opening of the Robert A. Grimm Children’s Pavilion for Emergency Services at Memorial Hospital. It is the first pediatric ER in Kern County and the only one between Los Angeles and Madera.

And it has been many years in the making.

Not in attendance that morning was the man who, nearly three decades earlier, envisioned pediatric services expansion at the medical campus but didn’t live long enough to see his dream become a reality – C. Larry Carr. It was also serendipitous. A few hours later and a few miles away, the annual Larry Carr Memorial Golf event was held.

“We couldn’t have planned it any better,” said his widow, Nancy.

Memorial had only been open eight years when a young Carr began working at the hospital under then-Administrator Kevin Hegarty. He met his wife, Nancy, in the hospital gift shop where she volunteered and they married six months later. In 1967, at the age of 26, the BHS and UCLA grad became the youngest hospital administrator in the nation when he was named president.

“Back then, leaders of the other hospitals decided they didn’t want to do pediatrics. They didn’t think there was a lot of volume and it was hard to recruit doctors,” recalled Memorial President and CEO Jon Van Boening. “It was Larry who made the decision and commitment that Memorial would be the pediatric hospital for Bakersfield. Everything we have done has been built on that foundation.”

Carr asked his board members to embrace the idea as well.

There was a children’s department, but no pediatric intensive care unit or separate emergency wing, and the neonatal intensive care unit wasn’t nearly the size and scope that it is today when, in 1991, Carr accepted the offer to partner with the Children’s Miracle Network. The first telethon was held the following year.

“Back in those days, it was all about the telethon and tote board,” said Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Development Director Caryl Schweitzer. They coincided with the national events, complete with the presentation of giant checks and acknowledgement of CMN community partners. Today, that round-the-clock format has given way to a one-day radio and television mediathon and millions have been raised locally through the 26-year-old CMN partnership. “Larry’s vision was certainly the building out of the pediatric service line,” Schweitzer added.

“He dedicated his life to the staff and patients,” Nancy remembered. “Days before he passed, he gathered staff and told them he wanted them to complete the north tower.”

Larry Carr died in 2002. Three years later, Van Boening enlisted Nancy’s help in completing the tower her husband had wanted so desperately. Children’s services growth followed soon after. Under the current administration, with Carr’s vision in mind, the enormous expansion of the pediatric service line includes the Lauren Small Children’s Center and the Robert A. Grimm Children’s Pavilion for Emergency Services.

It is hard to imagine how differently the Bakersfield hospital might look today had a young hospital chief who was known to describe himself as knowledgeable in the sciences but inexperienced in administration not had the foresight and dedication. 

Opinions expressed are those of Lisa Kimble.

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