Two-day-old Daniel Garcia was not at all interested in having his photo taken on Oct. 16 in the newly reopened Adventist Health Tulare Birth Center. He fussed and wriggled and let out a few healthy wails, while his parents alternated between giggling and groaning that the photos may not happen. But in no time at all, Daniel was completely calm after being expertly swaddled by his doting nurse, dozing peacefully in her arms while the photographer snapped away.

Squirmy babies and healthy wails are the sights and sounds of new life once again emanating from the halls of the Tulare hospital, sounds that the team had waited patiently for almost a year to hear.

Perhaps the most welcome sound of all was the lullaby chime that played the morning of Aug. 19 announcing the arrival of Adventist Health Tulare’s first baby, Alayah Rene Valdez. At 7 pounds, Alayah ushered in a joyous return to birthing for Tulare.

“I’m delighted and very happy,” Tulare obstetrician Abraham Betre, DO, said after delivering Alayah. “The staff was great, and the family is very happy. We have all been waiting to restore birthing service for a long time, and now it’s back.”

Emergency care was initial focus

By the time the hospital reopened Oct. 15, 2018, the community had gone almost a year without a new baby. No hospital meant that patients had to travel to neighboring cities for care. Not having an emergency department put their health in jeopardy when time was critical.

Addressing the urgent-care needs of the community had to be the first order of business, insisted directors of the Tulare Local Health Care District, from which Adventist Health leases the property.

Just 18 minutes into the ribbon-cutting ceremony on opening day, as if to punctuate that request with an exclamation point, an ambulance rolled in to deliver the first patient to the Emergency Department.

The hospital has grown steadily busier since then.

Early on, many patients were transferred to other Adventist Health hospitals in the Central Valley, or elsewhere, depending on the treatment needed, and services and equipment initially available at Tulare. The depth of resources within the Adventist Health network gave Tulare patients access to care not previously available. 

Today, more than half of the patients admitted can receive further treatment in Tulare without having to leave town.

“It’s important for patients to be able to remain in their community for care whenever possible, and it’s satisfying to see that we’ve been able to deliver on our promise of providing care in

this community,” said Sonja Reyna, vice president of business development for Adventist Health in the Central Valley.

In the past year, the Emergency Department team has cared for more than 25,000 patients, and more than 1,000 patients have been admitted for care.

More services, sites to come

Those early days spent caring for patients gave the staff the chance to assess the community’s needs so hospital leaders could establish priorities and decide which services to provide and when.

After an initial loan of close to $10 million to the district to reopen the hospital, Adventist Health provided an additional $10 million for upgrades, improvements and new services spanning the first two years.

Adventist Health has already completed a rollout of new services that include nuclear medicine, cardiology care, a forensic toxicology laboratory and a physician liaison program. A sleep center and major investment in the imaging department, including mammography services, are slated for completion before the end of the year.

The first Adventist Health Physicians Network medical office opened in August, providing general and thoracic surgical services, and a major rural health center is expected to open in 2020. Additional patient care sites are in development, also expected to be completed in 2020.

Regional Growth, Network Strength

The Tulare hospital is part of Adventist Health in the Central Valley, a network that has grown to four hospitals with the addition of Tulare in 2018.

In addition to the hospitals, there are medical offices providing primary care in rural communities, as well as myriad specialty services — joint replacement, diabetes management programs, complex care, a sleep diagnostic center, hospice care and much more — giving teams in each hospital access to the expertise and resources they need to keep their patients healthy.

Delano Regional Medical Center is expected to become an Adventist Health hospital before the end of the year.

Birth Center breathes

new life into community The community helped celebrate the Birth Center’s opening at an Aug. 9 open house that resembled a giant baby shower, sharing stories of family members who had been born at the hospital, as well as those who didn’t have that chance because the hospital had closed.

The team showed off the $1 million in upgrades in the new center — spacious rooms and new equipment — by giving tours and describing what new moms could expect from their experience at Adventist Health Tulare.

“It’s said that a baby brings love to the world, it makes the days shorter and the nights longer, the savings a little bit lighter, and it fills our homes with love,” said Randy Dodd, Adventist Health Tulare president. “And we’re just very excited to have that begin here again

in this Tulare community.”

Once the first babies started to arrive, the team could not get enough, stealing up to the Birth Center on their breaks to peek through the nursery windows at the new lives while the nurses cared for them.

“I have grandchildren, but they don’t live nearby,” said Monica Yancy, an IT support technician at the hospital, who saw the activity in the Birth Center as she completed work for the department. “Seeing these babies reminds me how much I miss being around mine, and how special it is to this community to have them being born here again. They’re not my babies, but, in a way, they do belong to all of us.”

Beyond Our Walls

There is an aspect of care that Adventist Health provides that happens outside the hospital, with little fanfare and in areas of the community where need often goes unmet.

In partnership with Life Hope Centers, a humanitarian service of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Central California, volunteer doctors, optometrists, dentists, nurses and other health-care providers work alongside community volunteers to provide basic health and dental services to people with few options and limited means.

Local church partners identify families in need, and hundreds of people receive services.

Most patients leave with new glasses and a new vision prescription, or long-overdue dental problems fully resolved. The services are free.

The Tulare hospital hosted a clinic in May and provided services to 350 people.