By next month, local epilepsy patients won’t have to travel so far for complex procedures.

That’s because Kern Medical Center has partnered with the University of Southern California’s Neurorestoration Center to bring an epilepsy program and center to Bakersfield. It’s the first time USC has partnered with a Kern County healthcare provider.

“There is no comprehensive epilepsy center in the Central Valley. Fresno does not have one, the Central Coast does not have one, and Bakersfield did not have one,” said Dr. Joseph Chen, an adjunct associate professor at USC who serves as the new chief of neurosurgery at Kern Medical Center.

“It’s one of the most common neurological conditions. We knew there was a need here in the Central Valley.”

Chen estimates there are about 10,000 people suffering from medically intractable epilepsy in Kern County, but anticipates drawing patients from as far north as Fresno. The center would be the only one in the Central Valley that offers complex neurosurgery services for epileptics, Chen said.

Next month, for example, a patient is having an open brain surgery where Dr. Charles Yu Liu, the chief epilepsy surgeon, will remove a "focus of tissue" that is causing seizures, Chen said.

“My guess is that probably will be the first procedure of its kind performed anywhere in the area,” Chen said.

Patients needing those types of procedures have historically gone to hospitals in Los Angeles and Sacramento, Chen added.

“That’s a tremendous hardship for many of these patients. Many epileptic patients can’t work, so they have limited resources. Many depend upon caregivers, so making a journey of more than 100 miles can be an undue hardship for them,” Chen said.

The disorder is a complex service line that requires a multidisciplinary team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiologists, and sometimes psychiatrists during a course of treatment, Chen said.

Those are all things the partnership with USC would bring to KMC.

In other cases, USC and KMC plucked local doctors, like epilepsy neurologist Dr. Hari Veedu, to help lead the new center who have established private practices. They were wooed, he said, by the resources USC provides.

If a patient requires an investigational procedure, for example, he or she could be sent to Los Angeles but would be treated by the same team doing the surgery in Kern, Chen said.

Chen described it as proof "this can be done in a safety-net hospital,” and that a sophisticated center doesn’t have to be established through a wealthy privately-supported hospital.

USC’s first goal through the partnership, Chen said, is to provide care to the impoverished.

​Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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