Kaweah Delta unveils new emergency department

Ben Irwin

$32.8 million expansion brings more beds, staff, space and modernized care to Kaweah Delta’s Visalia Emergency Department

VISALIA – The wait is nearly over for Kaweah Delta’s new Visalia Emergency Department, the $32.8 million expansion bringing more beds, staff, space and modernized care to the medical center, slated to open this month pending a final inspection from the California Department of Public Health.

Situated just off highway 198 on the corner of S. Locust Street and Mineral King Avenue, the newly expanded facility that now hosts 73 beds was built on the bones of the old Visalia Municipal Hospital, demolished in 1969 to make way for the Kaweah Delta Medical Center. Gary Herbst, chief executive officer at Kaweah Delta, said the expansion of the only trauma center between Bakersfield and Fresno was long overdue.

“Emergency care is first and foremost what the community expects from us, but we know it has been frustrating for them, and for us, because of overcrowding,” Herbst said. “Taking care of patients in the waiting room is not what we want to do.”

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Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst leads a walk through of the hospital’s new emergency department on April 13.Photo by Ben Irwin

After a harsh winter of hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients pushed the nations healthcare system to its limits, stories of patients dying in hallways unable to secure a bed are still seared in the minds of many Americans. For Dr. Sakona Seng, medical director of Kaweah Delta’s Emergency Department, the additional space and beds is a welcome sight.

“Our patients deserve the highest quality of care we can possibly deliver,” Seng said. “A lot of that in the past has been defined by space. There have been days of working out in hall chairs, hallways, or even at times in winter seasons in tents in our parking lots. All of us on the physician side recognize that’s not how we want to continue.”

While the additional staff and space—the new building brings the square footage up from 19,200 to 38,400 with a 100-person waiting room and Kaweah Delta plans to hire more medical providers and nurses as needed—seems like welcome reinforcements in light of the struggles of the coronavirus, the plan for expansion came long before the advent of a global pandemic.

In 2016 Kaweah Delta went to the voters in Tulare County asking them to pass Measure H, a bond measure to the tune of $327 million for expanding their medical facilities, which failed by a large margin. The Medical Center pivoted and instead largely funded the project with $100 million in tax exempt revenue bonds it issued to investors in 2015, the difference being the principal and interest will be repaid by the hospital’s revenues rather than Tulare County residents.

Also mentioned in the language of Measure H was funding to replace patient areas not meeting earthquake safety standards required by California law, which would render the main building on Mineral King Avenue obsolete by 2030. Kaweah Delta has yet to say how they plan to complete or fund the necessary updates.

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