By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Fifty years ago in May 1968, the Kern Valley Hospital opened its doors in Mountain Mesa to begin serving a grateful community with what was called at the ribbon-cutting ceremony a “long-awaited and desperately needed facility.”
To celebrate this important 50th anniversary, members of the community and current leadership of the Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) joined together for lunch on June 9, 2018, at the Rivernook event meadow in Kernville to recognize those who made this long-term achievement possible.
One of the first presenters was Kim Kissack-Villani, Superintendent of South Fork Union School District, whose grandparents Bill and Grace Kissack donated ranching land for the hospital. This couple was also very involved in the future hospital’s operations with Bill on the Board of Directors and Grace as a Pink Lady in the Auxiliary. The Kissack family took pride in the Kern River Valley (KRV) and were very thankful for the hospital’s services, then and now. Kissack-Villani said she was especially grateful for the emergency services available at Kern Valley Hospital when her son was delivered there in 1995 after the road was closed through the Kern River canyon.
The KV Healthcare District was formed in 1964, and just 3 years later, construction began on its hospital. At the groundbreaking ceremony in 1967, the Kissack family was commended for their important contributions that quickened the process. A 1967 Kern Valley Sun article reported that Kern County Sheriff Charles Dodge said a hospital would be “a real milestone for the Kern River Valley. We’re the ones called upon to bring the emergencies to your facility, and your near proximity will be of tremendous service.”
On May 27, 1968, the doors of the new hospital were opened to receive new patients with 24 beds, and to also provide emergency, x-ray, and laboratory services. Initial staff consisted of 33 full-time and 11 part-time employees. A 1968 Kern Valley Sun article about the hospital dedication ceremony stated that as U.S. Congressman Bob Mathias cut the ribbon to enter the building, he described the importance of a hospital to the growth of a community.
Three weeks later on June 19, 1968, the first baby, a boy, was born at the hospital to Mr. and Mrs. John Edward McNally. Further services continued to be added over the years, including adding ICU beds; offering additional 24-hour services; and in the 1990s adding a 74-bed Skilled Nursing Facility, the Mesa Clinical Pharmacy, and the Rural Health Clinic. Telemedicine services were added in 2010, and hospital-wide electronic records were added in 2012. Further services will be added to continue meeting the needs of the KRV community which are currently being determined through a valley-wide health needs assessment survey.
At the 50th anniversary celebration, Tom Cormack, a retired KRV and Kern County Teacher of the Year and lead teacher for the Exploring Careers in Health Occupations (ECHO) Health Academy, applauded the giving spirit and generosity of all those associated with the Kern Valley Hospital and Healthcare District. Cormack’s father lived with a serious illness in his later years, and because the hospital was available to quickly stabilize him several times, his dad was able to live a longer life and spend more time with his family.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s representative, Aaron Falk, presented a video that McCarthy had recorded as a tribute to the 50 years of the Kern Valley Hospital. Since it could not be seen at the outdoor ceremony, the video will be made available on the KVHD website for viewing at a later date. Other presentations were made by Representatives Pam Rose, for State Senator Jean Fuller; Thomas Eugene, for Assemblyman Devon Mathis; and Debbie Freeland, for Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason.
After commending the foresight and generosity of the original founders, KVHD CEO Tim McGlew also expressed his gratitude for the dedication of the Board of Directors nine years ago when he started his new position. They were fully committed to saving the hospital after serious issues had previously occurred at the Skilled Nursing Facility. McGlew said that with the tireless efforts of the Board, staff, Hospital Auxiliary and Foundation, the hospital and district came through that difficult period better than ever.
Master of Ceremonies and Board Member Charlie Busch and community member Ernie Anderson both spoke up to thank McGlew for his leadership and for building a professional team that is unique for such a small hospital. McGlew responded, “I love this hospital and this valley. It is a labor of love because all of you make it a doable and enjoyable task.”
McGlew closed the 50th anniversary celebration by saying, “We have had a tremendous past. Our mission and vision continues as we look toward the next 50 years to make sure that the seeds of what was started in this valley continue to grow and thrive for future generations to follow. We hope you will join us in our efforts to maintain a legacy to the ideals of those before us, to assure that this hospital will be here when our community needs it most.”