For the last five months, Kaweah Delta Medical Center has been at full capacity, and the trend isn’t going to change any time soon.
With the Kaweah Delta Health Care District poised to replace its acute-care beds at the aging, seismically unfit Mineral King Wing, the time seems ripe to KDHCD’s leadership for expanding its crowded main campus.
“It’s not just about replacing the building,” said KDHCD CEO Lindsay Mann, referring to the January 2030 deadline for bringing Kaweah Delta into compliance with state law intended to keep medical services going in the aftermath of a severe quake.
There is a second, equally pressing problem. As the county’s main medical center continues to add and expand programs, such as its neurology, trauma and perinatology departments, it is generating greater traffic from surrounding communities where such services simply aren’t available.
“These things create demand from the entire region,” Mann said.
He also believes patients, their families and friends can see for themselves the improvements at the hospital that led to receiving an A-rating in safety from the Leapfrog Group in its 2014 survey.
“It very powerfully effects what happens here,” Mann said of the rating and steps taken to achieve it. “Trust and confidence are emerging, from which comes preference. It’s much more powerful than meeting the law.”
Outdated Building No Longer Enough
The law in question, SB1953, requires KDHDC’s emergency and acute-care departments be housed in buildings strong enough to withstand a major earthquake. The Mineral King Wing, originally opened in 1969, simply cannot do that. With that in mind, the district is poised to begin a 10-year construction project that will bring it into compliance and change the face of downtown Visalia.
At least two years of planning and two more for the state to approve those plans will pass before the first shovel moves earth between Acequia and Mineral King avenues. Yet, the general framework for those sweeping changes is already in place. It starts with tearing down what’s already there.
Ultimately, the hospital intends to construct a new tower, one at least as tall as the six-story Acequia Wing that opened in 2009. That new tower will occupy the land adjacent to the Acequia Wing, west of what remains of Floral Avenue, and extending all the way to West Street. That means the buildings there now — the hospital’s former imaging center, a pair of office buildings also owned by KDHCD, as well as Checkers Charbroiled Burgers and the former Taco Bell now occupied by Doc’s Drive-In — will all have to come down.
“When we start construction, Doc’s and Checkers go,” Mann said. However, he stressed the razing of the eateries is still years away, and worries the public may think them already closed. They aren’t. “We want to be careful about that.”
How The Changes Will Happen
The first stage of expansion will see the newly cleared land turned into much needed parking; but, that move is only short-term. When state approval and voter-backed funding are secured, the real construction will get underway with a ground-floor expansion that will surround the already standing Acequia Wing. To do that, what remains of Floral Avenue south of Acequia will be erased, and Mill Creek will be covered over. That ground-floor expansion will eventually provide the footprint for a tower at least six stories high.
While that’s going on, a pair of side projects will also be underway. The expanded hospital will need expanded parking and more energy. The hospital hopes to meet that first need with a multistory parking structure, perhaps taking over the existing parking areas stretching along the north side of Acequia between Floral and Willis streets, bridging over West Street in between.
“But, that’s not defined,” said Mann. “We don’t know that this is where it will be.”
The second need, the ability to generate its own power at a significant savings, will be met with an expansion of KDMC’s co-generation plant on West Street.
The expansion, Mann stressed, will provide only “absolute necessities” the medical center needs to continue providing services beyond the 2030 cutoff. Changes must be made, he said, but nothing superfluous will be included.
“We’re looking at making sure everything we expand is needed,” Mann said.
They’ll also be trying to save the district and taxpayers as much as they can along the way. To that end, studies will be made to see if the aged Mineral King Wing can be put to new use.
“We’ll be studying that over the next 14 years,” said Mann. “Would it be cost effective to repurpose it?”
At issue are compliance with current building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and questions of logistics, such as accessibility. Fixing and updating the old building to new purpose could prove exorbitant.
“The pragmatic utility of a repurposing project will be the cost,” Mann said.