Kern Medical threw open the doors Thursday to a new, state-funded pediatrics unit that provides contemporary rooms for its youngest hospital patients while preserving the privacy of mothers receiving postpartum care.
Dozens were on hand to celebrate the opening that CEO Scott Thygerson said was nine years in the making and only happened because the hospital received grant money several years ago from the California Health Facilities Financing Authority.
“Kern Medical, we don’t have money falling out of our pockets,” he said.
The fourth-floor pediatrics unit was among a few projects funded by a $9.2 million award from CHFFA, including a remodeling of Kern Medical’s Columbus Pediatric Outpatient Clinic and expansion of the hospital’s pediatric emergency department.
As the county’s teaching and trauma-care hospital tasked with providing a safety net for the area's most vulnerable patients, Kern Medical delivers about 200 babies per month and cares for about 9,800 pediatric patients per year coming through its emergency department. It’s located less than three miles from another hospital, Bakersfield Memorial, that is working with state and donated money to expand its own capabilities in pediatric medical care.
Thygerson downplayed any notion of competition with Memorial, saying the Central Valley’s health care challenge is not overcapacity but ensuring access to care for underserved communities. He noted Kern Medical will provide some services Memorial does not, such as gastroenterology and nephrology.
“Adding or expanding by any facility is fabulous. Because that just enhances access,” he said.
Memorial Hospital, which did not respond for a request for comment Thursday, announced donations in October that will help it build a 5,000-square-foot operating room with two dedicated surgery rooms. It received the full $15 million it requested of CHFFA — from the same funding round Kern Medical’s pediatrics work benefited from — to build and equip the pediatric surgical unit, which was scheduled to begin construction this year.
Thursday’s opening and ribbon-cutting at Kern Medical was tinged with sadness because of the death this week of a woman whose work as head of the hospital’s nonprofit foundation contributed greatly to the pediatrics grant. Thygerson said Foundation President Erica Easton died from cancer Wednesday.
In approving Kern Medical’s request for state bond money — $9.2 million instead of the $15 million requested — CHFFA noted the 1920s-era hospital had been able to care for only 10 pediatric patients at a time “because of the poorly designed layout and unsafe headwalls.”
While some of the other projects partially funded by the state grant have required the hospital to put in some of its own money, Thygerson said the pediatrics unit was paid for entirely through the CHFFA award.
He told Thursday’s mid-afternoon gathering that the project originated when he and former CEO Russell Judd toured the hospital nine years ago and noticed mothers in postpartum care were sharing rooms with two to three other families.
That realization prompted them to request a temporary state waiver allowing them to divide up the unit’s 28 pediatric beds so that 14 of them could serve as private, postpartum care rooms. The opening of the new unit makes permanent the privacy that waiver allowed.