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A Northern Inyo Hospital 10 years in the making

June 28, 2012

This is one of the new NIH’s three new cutting-edge surgery theaters, manned by NIH surgical staff in this promotional photo. The theater features cutting-edge technology such as camera-to-video screen viewing capabilities, electrical booms and lighting which allows NIH’s staff “to perform to the best of their ability,” said Director of Community Development, Marketing and Grant Writing Angie Aukee (not shown). Photo by Michael Cooke

After a decade of planning, design, red tape and construction, Northern Inyo Hospital District officially opens the doors to its new, two-story medical facility this weekend.
First conceived of about 10 years ago, and funded in large part by taxpayers, the building is being unveiled during a grand opening ceremony this Sunday, July 1.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend, and get an up-close view of what hospital officials call a “state-of-the-art” facility offering patients the latest in medical technology with large side orders of privacy, comfort and security.
The entire facility comes in at 54,000 square feet, and was built as a three-phase project that broke ground four years ago.
First up was the 12,000-foot Support Building, which housed the Clinical and Microbiology Lab, Purchasing Department, warehouse, laundry and maintenance department; the Imaging Center followed; and construction of the the 25-bed main hospital building began in August of 2009. The main building also houses In-Patient Services, the E.R., Surgery, Information Technology, the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit and Labor and Delivery.
NIH’s five-zone hospital district stretches south of Big Pine to north of Bishop. Although the area has approximately 12,000 residents, the hospital’s service area encompasses approximately 23,000 residents in both Inyo and Mono counties and into rural Nevada.
NIH has come a long way from when Owens Valley “medical facilities” moved from private homes to Bishop Community Hospital in 1946 and, then in 1949, into NIH which was built in part by a $210,000 community bond.
Ten years ago, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake caused California to mandate seismic-retrofitting of all hospitals, NIH brought an architect on board to start drafting plans for a hospital that would meet the new guidelines, said NIH Director of Community Development, Marketing and Grant Writing Angie Aukee.
A $29.5 million bond was approved by district voters in 2005 and construction began in 2008.
“Three architectural firms and many, many unanticipated state regulations later,” the $62 million NIH facility is ready for its grand opening, she said.
And after a blessing, a brief welcome speech and some refreshments on Sunday, residents and visitors are invited to tour the new facility at their leisure. At 1 p.m., citizens and NIH officials will gather in front of the new NIH on West Line Street across from Church of the Nazarene. Visitors are advised to arrive in time to find parking along the east and north sides of the property as shade canopies and seating for the ceremony will be situated in the front parking lot.
The United Methodist Church and Paiute tribal elders will lead the public in a blessing, “praying for the doctors, nurses, staff and all patients who will be treated there,” said United Methodist Church Pastor Kathleen Puntar. Next, NIH Board President Pete Watercott and NIH Hospital Administrator John Halfen will give brief words of welcome. VFW members will conclude the ceremony by raising the U.S., California and POW flags. The public will then convene in the hospital lobby for the much-anticipated cake-cutting, said Aukee.
NIH Nutritional Baker/Cook Marty Taylor has designed a special cake for the occasion, in the shape of the new facility. Taylor had remarked that she hadn’t realize how many corners the building would have when she took the job on, said Aukee. Accompanying Taylor’s confectionery homage will be refreshments by Michelle Denault and music by The String Theory’s Greg Smith, Charlie Broten and Mike Muldoon. Broten has written cake-cutting lyrics to further memorialize the ceremony, said Smith. “We’ll be doing some light heavy metal,” quipped Smith about the musical lineup which will be everything but.
Fed, entertained and armed with a full-color facility map and “A History of Breaking Ground,” a booklet which chronicles NIH’s development from 1947 to the present, “people will be encouraged to wander throughout the building and ask questions” of the NIH department heads and other staff strategically located on both floors of the facility, providing information in both Spanish and English, said Aukee.
Tour-goers will pass through badge-operated access control panels, designed to screen for authorized personnel but grand opening visitors won’t have to worry about such restrictions. They’ll get an unrestricted view of spacious private patient room suites, most with that great Eastern Sierra view, said Aukee. The Emergency Department, Surgery, Phlebotomy Lab and PACU feature many top-of-the-line innovations for NIH including private registration and triage rooms, isolation rooms with negative airflow to contain the spread of especially dangerous airborne pathogens and surgical theaters outfitted with the “very latest equipment,” said Aukee, as well as Labor and Delivery rooms that will allow mothers to deliver and recover in their own private room complete with cribs for their newborns. And Emergency now has a trauma room for minor surgical procedures.
Ambience has not been neglected, said Aukee. The walls are adorned with work by local artists and the Healing Garden will offer new landscape design that incorporates a few relocated bits from the old NIH.
All that’s missing is California State licensing. NIH medical staff will move into the new facility and “we will see patients the moment we are licensed,“ said Aukee. Once that happens, chemotherapy, infusion therapy, physical therapy and respiratory therapy will move from the their current individual modular units, at the northwest corner of NIH grounds, into the current hospital building, joining NIH administrative services there.
“I just want the public to know that the latest in cutting-edge technology is available to them, that this is their hospital,” said Aukee of her hopes for the grand opening ceremony. “It also allows our staff to perform to the best of their ability (and perhaps) this facility could be a recruitment tool as well, to attract new medical talent” to join the excellent staff we already have.”

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