ValleyCare at 50
Hospital starts next half-century as technology leader
ValleyCare, which opened its first medical center 50 years ago in Livermore, is now rated one of America's top 100 hospitals and a medical technology leader as it starts its second half-century.
Incorporated as ValleyCare Health System (VCHS), the organizationŐs roots go back to the 1950s when the 18-bed St. PaulŐs Hospital proved too small for the fast-growing Livermore/Pleasanton communities. Local residents, weary of traveling to Oakland or Hayward for health care, banded together and raised enough money, along with state funds, to build Valley Memorial Hospital in 1961. The 46-bed facility was built on land donated by Kaiser Paving, with a third floor added in 1969, raising the total to 110 beds.
Needing more room in a building that would meet California's increasingly strict earthquake protection requirements, ValleyCare purchased a 23-acre parcel at Santa Rita Road and West Las Positas Boulevard. In 1974, opening its new ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton in 1991.
Today, with a two-campus health system and 242 beds, a medical staff of 400 and numerous hospital and outpatient services, ValleyCare is still the unique, fiercely independent health care facility in the Bay Area that is locally controlled just as its founders envisioned more than a half-century ago. Its board of directors includes ValleyCare doctors and members chosen from the community, including its current chairman, Marty Inderbitzen, a well-known Pleasanton lawyer who specializes in real estate transactions and land use entitlements. Board members include residents of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore, the hospital's primary marketing and service area.
"All of us in the Tri-Valley need to understand and appreciate the value of having an independent, nonprofit hospital in our communities," said Deborah Acosta McKeehan, former city manager of Pleasanton who has been on the ValleyCare board for six years, serving as its chair for the past two terms.
"We can get excellent medical care right here where we live without having to drive to Walnut Creek or beyond," she added. "In addition to having convenient medical care and services, ValleyCare also provides more than $14 million in charity care. So it's a local asset that not only serves all of us, it also gives back to the communities it serves."
"While not everyone in our area will be a patient at ValleyCare, everyone in our community is a beneficiary," he said. "To that end, we also rely upon our community members to support ValleyCare both financially through the ValleyCare Charitable Foundation and by utilizing our services."
"In doing so, you help ensure that ValleyCare will be here to serve the needs of the community for the next 50 years," he added.
It's not always been an easy ride for ValleyCare. Financial difficulties in the 1980s and increased competition from new and expanded hospitals and clinics in San Ramon, Walnut Creek and Castro Valley siphoned off patients who otherwise might have gone to ValleyCare. Suitors appeared at the ValleyCare door, suggesting that a merger with a larger Bay Area hospital or a corporate buy-out could be solutions to ValleyCare's troubles.
Credit for staving off the merger/buyout advocates goes to Marcy Feit and a locally elected board of directors who were determined to keep ValleyCare independent and locally managed.
Feit joined ValleyCare as a nurse more than 30 years ago, and is now its Chief Executive Officer. She, like the hospital organization she manages, has become nationally known. She is a frequent speaker at major medical conventions where she is regarded as the determined visionary that has brought success to the ValleyCare model.
Expanding the hospital's medical staff as well as its facilities, Feit has positioned ValleyCare as a leader in a number of specialties, including cardiac care, joint replacements, oncology and breast cancer treatment and weight loss surgery. Faced with nursing shortages, she initiated ValleyCare's own response to a national problem by opening its own nurses training facility in 2002 in partnership with Chabot College's nursing program. The Mertes-Feit Educational Center has now graduated 97 nurses with the majority of the new nurses still remaining on ValleyCare's professional staff.
The ValleyCare Health Library and Ryan Comer Resource Center in Pleasanton has become a world-wide model for health libraries and staff assistance. Its certified breast cancer Patient Navigator program offers an experienced oncology nurse to guide cancer patients through their treatments after their first diagnosis.
Under the direction of Dr. Aaron Salyapongse, ValleyCare's Joint Replacement Institute has revolutionized hip and knee replacement surgeries, allowing patients to stay active and continue doing what they enjoy.
"When you have pain, simple activities of daily living become miserable," Salyapongse said. The most rewarding part of this job is having patients come back in and give me a giant hug because their pain is gone. To me, that makes every day worth it."
ValleyCare is also known for its excellent cardiac care. Utilizing sophisticated treatments of angioplasty and stenting, ValleyCare offers advanced cardiac treatment. Also, through collaboration between Alameda County Emergency Medical Services and the ValleyCare Health System, wireless cardiac monitors have been installed on county ambulances, transmitting data to ValleyCare's emergency room staff and the emergency cardiac team before the patient arrives.
Award-winning weight loss surgery at ValleyCare's Bariatric Center serves those facing critical health consequences if they're not able to lose weight.
While medical care and its medical centers in Livermore and Pleasanton remain a top focus, ValleyCare has become much more.
It operates an urgent care facility in Livermore and will soon open a second one in Dublin.
"It's much faster to go there than to the emergency room," McKeehan said. "For patients, it's much faster and from the hospital's perspective, it's a lot less expensive."
ValleyCare's Meals on Wheels program has served homebound seniors and low income children more than 1.5 million hot meals over the last 14 years. People without health insurance or those underinsured gain access to primary care through ValleyCare's mobile health unit, which operates in partnership with the Livermore Rotary Club.
Last November, ValleyCare opened a clinic at Wal-Mart's store on Las Positas Road in Livermore, which offers walk-in care seven days a week. Basic health care services being offered at the clinic range from treatment for earaches and sinus infections to vaccinations and routine physicals.
"By joining with Wal-Mart, the ValleyCare Medical Foundation is improving access to health care in our community," said Pam Marini, the foundation's chief operating officer.
More services are coming. Two new partnerships will be announced soon that will bring even more specialized medical services to the Tri-Valley, McKeehan said.
These partnerships, which offer broad-based medical care, allow ValleyCare to tap into major programs and services without surrendering its independence, still the ValleyCare's board of directors and CEO Marcy Feit's key priorities.
"In recent years, collaborations with research and teaching hospitals have enhanced important services in the Tri-Valley," Feit said. "Our affiliation with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital has expanded regional access to high-quality perinatal and pediatric care, keeping our tiniest patients (and their moms) close to home."
"Our commitment to exceptional care for cancer patients is evidenced in ValleyCare's collaboration with UC Davis Cancer Care Network, which brings a more focused level of care, including clinical trials, to our patients receiving cancer treatments," she explained.
Feit added: "Another important cornerstone for success is ValleyCare's warm relationship with our community, and the mutual support built over these 50 years. As your local health care system, we are working diligently to ensure that ValleyCare will be here to serve you for the next 50 years...and generations beyond."