Like the first buds of spring, new signs of life are beginning to appear at the partially-complete expansion project at Adventist Health Tulare Hospital.
Tower Advisory Committee Formed
The Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) this week announced the appointment of five members to an advisory board intended to aid district leaders in finishing the construction of the so-called Hospital Tower expansion in a “timely and efficient” manner. The project stalled more than two years ago under the direction of the district’s former management team.
“That’s very much needed in our community,” said Alex Gutierrez, a community advocate who worked extensively on the effort to replace TLHCD’s management. “That tower completion is going to change a lot for local health care in our area, especially for the district.”
Likely donors to the project will also soon be hearing from the Tulare Hospital Foundation, as its members resume fundraising.
Tower Construction Committee
Making up the membership of the Tower Construction Committee (TCC) are John Atilano, Rick Albert, Philip Smith, Linda Crase and Mike Shaffer.
Atilano, president of Tulare-based Lane Engineers, is a structural and civil engineer with more than two decades of experience. Albert is a registered nurse who works for Adventist in Tulare, and Shaffer is a clinical social worker and therapist. Smith’s background is in commercial and construction finance, and Crase worked for the Tulare District Hospital until 2009 as assistant to the CEO. She also worked on the original tower construction and funding efforts.
Two members of the TLHCD board of directors will complete the TCC. The first meeting of the TCC should take place in the first week of April.
The committee will be responsible for assessing the current state of the tower and what it will require to finish the project, including financial, material, and legal and regulatory aspects. The TCC will also provide a timeline for the tower’s completion and will be key in finding suppliers, construction companies and other essential personnel and resources.
‘We Are Tower Strong’
Meanwhile, the Tulare Hospital Foundation is gearing up for a fundraising campaign to pay for the tower’s completion, but it appears COVID-19 pandemic hesitancy has put a kink in those plans.
“It seemed to be across the board,” said Jan Smith of the Foundation’s initial testing of the charitable waters. “A lot of people felt it might be too soon, given that a lot of our businesses are still not open or partially open.”
Jan Smith described a low output at the Tulare Industrial Park as business continues to recover from worldwide work stoppages caused by the disease outbreak.
“A lot of the distribution folks have said, ‘Give us time to regroup,’” she said.
As its members await the right timing, the Hospital Foundation continues planning its publicity campaign.
“We are in the background, we are still creating what we hope will be our slogan: We are tower strong,” Smith said.
Hospital’s Image Problem
The Foundation plans to create a virtual tour of the tower to remind residents of the district how close to completion the project actually is. They hope to create hype around the project to make it a focus of civil pride.
“We find a lot of time when people go through that tower, they’re just amazed at the building itself, the shell itself, how far along it is,” Smith said. “It just seems like we’re so close.”
Smith said the Foundation’s main purpose in the past has been acting as the hospital’s publicity arm to increase the number of patients it serves, and its members are still focused on that goal.
“If they don’t hear us brag and share all the good things that are happening in our hospital, they’re not going to hear it from someone else, certainly not the media,” she said.
Kevin Northcraft, TLHCD’s board president, agreed the district’s recent past has hampered efforts to return to former levels of patient care.
“The controversy’s come over, and I don’t think we’re getting the publicity,” he said.
Turning a Profit
The hospital’s CEO Sheri Pereira, however, painted a fairly rosy picture of business during the last 12 months, especially recently.
“The hospital is definitely growing,” she said.
While emergency department visits were down 25% at Adventist Hospital Tulare, that was in line with numbers across the nation, Pereira said. Admissions, on the other hand, were up 35%.
“Basically, what it tells me is the people who are coming into the emergency department are truly the sick people,” she said.
In the obstetrics department, the hospital is still drawing only a fraction of the 200-300 births a month in Tulare, yet seeing far more patients than this time last year.
“OB is funny. I consider it flat because we go from 20 to 25 deliveries (monthly),” Pereria said. “For year over year, even that is up 46%, and the OB census is up 25%.”
Overall, Adventist is making money in Tulare, but things could be better.
“Financially, we were in the black for January, which we were very excited about, because we had shut down elective surgeries,’ Pereria said. “We need to get the word out. We are open for many services.”
Former CEO Takes New Job
Randy Dodd, who recently retired as CEO for Adventist Health Tulare, announced he will be going back to work, this time as CEO of a rehabilitation hospital currently under construction in Bakersfield. He begins work for Vibra Healthcare Systems on April 1. The new facility is set to open November 15.
“I’ll be starting earlier to try and build the team and organize the staffing, get everything kind of finalized with the construction process and be ready to hit the ground running when November 15 hits and we’re ready for our first patients,” Dodd said.
Currently, Dodd has a consulting contract with TLHCD relating to ongoing real estate issues. Dodd and TLHCD’s former chief financial officer Dan Heckathorne have both been retained as consultants to the district. Their contracts pay them at $100 per hour.
Despite his new position, Dodd said he was still be available to help the TLHCD with “real estate issues.”