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Community tours its brand-new hospital

July 5, 2012

Shoulder-to-shoulder, community members, young and old, crowed into the new Northern Inyo Hospital lobby to participate in tours of the entire facility. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

Ceremonial speeches, bilingual blessings and cutting of a custom-made cake ushered in a new era for Northern Inyo Hospital at the grand opening of its recently completed medical facility Sunday, July 1. The community surged throughout the facility, taking photos, asking questions of the myriad NIH staff present, and oohing and aahing at the latest in medical technology.
The NIH district serves approximately 12,000 local residents and a good many were present for the event. The crowd formed one long, shoulder-to-shoulder queue as they entered the building before splitting up into four facility-blessing groups. Later, many reconvened in the new lobby, which features private intake rooms, in time for NIH Nutritional Baker/Cook Marty Taylor to cut and serve slices of the cake she created in the likeness of the three new buildings. The cake-cutting was accompanied by String Theory giving life to Charlie Broten’s original lyrics covering the hospital’s history from 1949 and into the future – summarizing the grand opening with the refrain, “cut the cake, it was worth the wait.”
The community had arrived early for the 1 p.m. grand opening ceremony and the house was packed. “We did it,” said NIH Board President Pete Watercott by way of greeting. Watercott called attention to “the things that we got right,” such as a 100 percent united Board of Directors; collaboration with Turner Construction whose project management saved the Northern Inyo County Hospital District “probably millions of dollars, while delivering a really top-quality facility;” and the expediting efforts of city and county building inspectors. Watercott also thanked NIH CEO/CFO John Halfen, who always brought “solutions and action plans” when project problems arose.
Watercott thanked all NIH staff and volunteers, who provide high-quality, compassionate care, living up “to our motto, ‘People you know, caring for people you love.’” He noted that future generations “will look back in gratitude to us, who in the first decade of the new century, stepped up to make this investment in our community’s future quality of life.”
Gesturing to the new edifice, Watercott concluded by reciting from Katharine Lee Bates’ 1913 anthem, “America, the Beautiful”: “O beautiful for patriot dream 
that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, 
undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! 
God shed his grace on thee 
and crown thy good with brotherhood 
from sea to shining sea!”
After Bishop VFW Post 8988 raised U.S., California and P.O.W./MIA flags, United Methodist Church Pastor Kathleen Puntar led a prayer “for all of those who will” receive the gift of life, await test results, face difficult decisions, go on their final journey home, say goodbye to loved ones, visit patients and provide comfort in every part of the new NIH.
Qwina West, a Paiute community member and one of “only a handful that still speaks Paiute,” fluently translated Puntar’s invocation for the crowd, adding nothing, he said, because “we are all on the same page … We’re not here for ourselves but to be of service … All of our children, all our grandchildren will be born here.” It’s not about differences among the cultures anymore, West said.
During the ensuing tours, virtually every segment of the community voiced their impressions of the new facility as people from all walks of life mingled together inspecting every recess of the cutting-edge medical building.
Lucy Alarid, LCSW, said, “As the Patient Advocate, we are grateful for the opportunity to bring healing and hope to our community, top-notch, state-of-the-art equipment, and another level of increased excellence.”
COO Leo Freis, said, “This community has really been blessed with two great things: All the members of the board who fearlessly, intelligently and courageously, and in the face of rising costs and difficulties, stood the course, providing the community with a building that may never have to be replaced.”
Auxiliary member June Shaw voiced a sentiment that was often repeated throughout the afternoon. “The celebration is wonderful; the turn-out is fantastic. Everyone worked so hard.”
Sharon Brown, Auxiliary member and Cerro Coso nursing program instructor, said that her nursing students were delighted that “‘there’s room for us to observe’” during surgical procedures now.
During the tour, Watercott said he was overwhelmed by the continuum. “What they did in 1946 is the same as we did today … People will look ahead just as they did then,” referring to the hospital district’s history as outlined in the brochures given to tour-goers.
Language Services Manager Jose Garcia, who speaks English, Spanish and a little French and Italian, said that NIH “saw patients who spoke 20 different languages” last year and “30 percent of our population speaks Spanish.” As NIH continues to provide services to “what the government calls limited English proficient” resident and visitor populations, said Garcia, it will need to increase its two telephonic/video interpretive stations by “two to four more” so bilingual staff, trained as medical interpreters, can continue to serve all patients.
But for now, Halfen said he is focused on getting the new facility up and running. “It really isn’t open yet,” although three patients actually needed and received medical treatment during the grand opening. Halfen speculated that NIH could open “in September at the earliest … We’re dependent on the State (to approve NIH’s licensing). At least 200 people were involved on a daily basis since about 2008” and everyone is ready to go.
The Auxiliary’s new gift shop was open, though, with “the best prices in town,” said Auxiliary historian Betty Brown. Proceeds go to things like “giving $20,000 for new ultrasound equipment, raised through the gift shop and our annual boutique,” said Nona Jones, Auxiliary member and gift shop buyer.
Tour-goer, Bishop City Council Member and Inyo County Supervisor-Elect Jeff Griffiths said, “It means a lot to my constituents to have world-class healthcare in our rural, remote community.” On a personal note, he recalled an earlier tour that revealed NIH’s growth potential. There is a lot of “extra capacity above the ceiling to lay in new equipment” cables for upgrades to serve the community in the future, he said.
Community member Samuel St. Clair, age 8, simply said of the new building, “It’s cool. My favorite is the room with big lights,” referring to the surgical theater. Halfen’s son Austin also liked Surgery best. “The whole place is cool pretty much.” His mother, Jara Halfen, said, “I’m proud of my husband, the board and the community. It’s been a long process but definitely worth it.”
Helen Louise Dinkey Boothe Dixon, a Bishop resident since 1926, said the tour held special meaning for her. “My mother’s father, Roy Boothe, was responsible for creating the original hospital district in the ’40s. My second daughter was born here when (Bishop Community Hospital) was just open … It was just one building. Now they’ve added all this,” she said.
Surgery Nurse Marie Boyd, CNOR, RNFA, said, “Only about five hospitals in the country have this world-class equipment. We have enough electrical outlets, an integrated video system” and so much more. Biomedical Engineer Scott Stoner has been with this project for two years, since it “was just steel beams.” He explained that the integrated video “Skyvision System, here is on par with that of any other leading hospital.”
Surgery Nurse Jill Coons, RN, said, “To keep caring for people we have to keep current in an ever-changing medical environment.” For example, now, during a surgical procedure, staff can “view X-rays on the PACS system” as soon as they are taken. If the patient has an out-of-town specialist, said Coons, he or she can also view the X-rays during the procedure.
“I’m so grateful to our community … The motto ‘People you know,’ we take that so seriously,” said Coons. The motto is particularly relevant to Coons, whose family has been here since the late 1800s. “My great-aunt Edith Ryan was the first RN here when it was Bishop Community Hospital.”
NIH anesthesiologist Dr. Anthony Schapera, took the Surgery tour and said, “It is my impression that this meets the highest expectation for providing excellence of care … In a big hospital, patients might get the technical care but it is not as intimate.”
Community member Barbara Hubner said she has often been a NIH patient and that she was happy for the whole valley as the new NIH was “lovely and long overdue. I hope it attracts even more outstanding doctors. People are tired of long trips out of town, especially in bad weather, with snow and roads closed.”
Surgical Nurse Manager Phyllis Meneses said, “We’ve lived in our current operating rooms, built in 1969, with new equipment” but the old building can’t sufficiently sustain necessary upgrades. Coons added, “Our staff of nurses and surgical techs is an incredible group, highly qualified. You don’t need to leave the valley to get great care; it’s right here.”
Meneses thanked Barbara Stuhaan, the former surgical nurse manager. The design of the new Surgery Department “was her vision … She fought long and hard” for three large, $1 million-equipped surgical theaters instead of four lesser ones, which was the original plan.
Over in Medical/Surgery where patients are prepped for and recover from surgery, RN Robin Christensen said she couldn’t wait for the new computer system, which scans patients and medications, “allows for security and bedside care charting which allows more time with patients.” Christensen referred to the WOWS workstation-on-wheels, a fully-secure, ergonomic computer cart/medicine cabinet that allows only authorized personnel to ensure that the correct patient is receiving the correct medications.
Christensen’s daughter, Alicia, a Bishop Union High School sophomore, said, “I’ve grown up in the old hospital” but she admires the new hospital’s features. For example, “You have to have a badge so it’s safer,” she said, referring to badge-operated security access control panels. And, said Alicia, “All the pictures make it feel kind of like home.”
Ninety-eight percent of the art that graces the new NIH’s pristine walls is by local artists. Two collections were donated: paintings by local artist Dwayne Daniels, in memory of his wife Delores, and photo collections donated by Gayla Wolf of Honey Bee Photography.
The hospital’s ambience includes Eastern Sierra views from most of the rooms, said NIH Director of Community Development, Marketing and Grant Writing Angie Aukee. Also in view is the Healing Garden to the east of NIH centered around a masonary-pedestalled cupola, one of the three original cupolas from atop the old NIH; a crescent sitting wall/planter; and the transplanted rose garden also from the old NIH. Once the Tree of Life sculpture is installed with each of its leaves engraved with the names of sponsors’ loved ones, the garden will be complete, Aukee said. Call Cheryl Underhill with NIH Community Relations at (760) 873-2153 for more information on that.
It is the wave of the future for family to provide some patient care, such as changing beds and walking patients, “but not here,” said Barbara Smith, Med/Surg Infection Control Specialist. Here, staff gives patients top-of-the-line care although with large, well-appointed patient rooms – they even have a chair that turns into a bed – has staff “room to provide medical care” while family is in the room. Even the isolation rooms – designed with negative airflow to contain the spread of infectious disease – have bathrooms that easily accommodate two or three nurses assisting a wheelchair-bound patient to shower, if necessary, said Smith.
Even in the four Intensive Care Unit patient rooms, private bathroom facilities are required, although ICU patients usually cannot use them, said Aukee. (On a tour last week, she opened a diminutive cabinet and a “fully-plumbed” toilet swiveled out. One quick pull on the curtain mounted to a semi-circular ceiling track and violá a private potty.)
As usual, the band was one of the last to leave the building. Asked for his comments on the day’s proceedings, Broten said, “(This new facility is) an example of good government and that community is willing to be taxed for it … Every citizen owns a piece of this hospital.”

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