The Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) has provided medical care to valley residents since 1968. Today, it continues this mission while navigating an increasingly complex healthcare landscape.
The 101-bed facility is a critical access/rural hospital offering 24 acute care beds, a three-bed ICU unit, a 74-bed skilled nursing unit, physical therapy, radiology, clinical lab, respiratory and surgery departments. From its facilities in Mt. Mesa, its providers treat various diseases, such as strokes, heart attacks, gastric disorders, kidney disease, diabetes, COPD, the common cold and much more. A rural health clinic and a retail pharmacy round out the treatment offerings.
CEO Tim McGlew said the small-town atmosphere sets KVHD apart from its big-city counterparts. A veteran of hospitals in Phoenix, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas, McGlew noticed the difference as soon as he arrived.
“In smaller hospitals, it’s easier to get to know everyone,” he said. “We work as a team as we don’t have the wealth of resources that bigger hospitals do; but we are held to the same standards as those facilities.”CEO Tim McGlew
The COVID-19 pandemic hit everyone hard.
“In some respects, when the pandemic started, we were shielded from it, primarily because our community doesn’t travel much outside of the valley,” he said. “Our number of positive patients didn’t come until a few months later. With each succeeding wave of new cases, our caseload was lower than the surrounding communities.”
Kern County was impacted very hard, and the hospitals all reached out to each other in a spirit of cooperation to help meet critical needs.
“The CEOs had weekly meetings where we would all get together on Zoom calls and share what was going on in our facilities and what our needs were,” he said. “If we needed personal protective equipment, ventilators or other equipment, we would share them with each other. The cooperation among the hospitals was tremendous. I’ve never seen that anywhere before in my career. And we still have those conversations now.”
McGlew said State Rep. Vince Fong, who was also on the calls, helped with assisting the crisis response by getting needed help from Sacramento. He was influential in making their needs known to the decision-makers at the state level. Early on, supplies were an issue for everyone. KHVD participates in a group buying agreement with Premier, through Adventist Health, which helped keep the supply room stocked.
KVHD remains focused on the delivery of care to the valley’s population. In 2019, the hospital launched a mobile clinic to treat patients in Mt. Mesa and neighboring areas.
“We work closely with the Kern County Public Health, and the school districts to use the mobile clinic to bring vaccinations to the community,” McGlew said. “We’re also providing behavioral health to the schools through the mobile clinic. The clinic can go [virtually] anywhere.”
For patients who need transportation help, the facility operates three vans to take patients to doctors’ appointments, to the pharmacy for medications or for other clinical testing. The hospital has also capitalized on the convenience of telemedicine, allowing doctors and nurses to diagnose and treat ailments via Zoom or similar platforms.
KVHD’s embrace of technology helped put it ahead of the game regarding the pandemic response. McGlew noted that some physicians stopped seeing patients in person, opting to use video calls – a much safer alternative to contagious, crowded waiting rooms.
“We got into telehealth probably about 10 years ago before anybody else did,” he said. “And so we’ve been providing a number of specialties at our clinic. Our clinic’s treatment rooms, and the mobile clinic, have telemedicine capability. So, we can use this technology if we need to bring specialists in.”
As a public entity, KVHD works differently from most private hospitals. KVHD is required to be transparent, McGlew said. For example, it has a publicly elected board of directors that governs hospital operations, and the public must be allowed to attend board meetings.
“Our meetings are on Zoom, and a link to the meetings goes out to the community each month. People can view the meetings and ask questions if they want to participate,” McGlew said.
To provide needed staff, KVHD has partnered with educational institutions to develop nurses and other clinical staff.
In recent years, KVHD has developed its own training programs, which can start new classes throughout the year as needs dictate. Its certified nursing assistant classes have been in place for a number of years. Many have gone on to become licensed vocational nurses and even RNs.
“We’ve been doing that for a long time,” he said. “They’re the backbone of our workforce, especially in the skilled nursing facility.”