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The idea first made headlines in January 1990: “Three major hospitals consider joint plan.”
The players: Fresno Community Hospital, Valley Medical Center, Valley Children’s Hospital and the University of California.
The concept: create a regional medical center complex as part of a downtown neighborhood renewal project. Fresno Community would retain its campus. Valley Children’s and county-run Valley Medical Center would each build new buildings on a site just north of Fresno Community.
The University of California, San Francisco, viewed the idea as a good way to advance its Fresno medical education program and health care in the Valley. Fresno County leaders thought a regional medical center complex would be a great way to lure a proposed 10th UC campus to Fresno.
More than 17 years later, the much-evolved idea is reality.
With the April 16-18 move of acute inpatient services from University Medical Center (formerly Valley Medical Center) to Community Regional Medical Center (formerly Fresno Community), determination and commitment to the Valley’s health needs have overcome doubt and turbulence in the marketplace.
The pace has been breakneck and, at times, snail like. Here are sprints and stumbles, drawn from media accounts:
Valley Children’s bows out of plan in 1990, announces in 1991 it will move to Madera … In 1993, Fresno County supervisors reject idea of merger and regional medical network … Consultants twice say the only way the county hospital can survive financially is by being merged with Community … Report describes county hospital as “inadequate and outdated” … County official says without change at hospital, other public services may cease…
In 1995, UC chooses Merced over sites in Fresno and Madera for its first Valley campus. … In 1995, Fresno County reconsiders merger as an option … Unions want hospital’s fate put on ballot for voters to decide … Critics say Community wants merger to shore up its own financial problems, warn that there will be two standards of care, with unfair treatment for poor patients … Noisy street protests, pointedly worded placards, packed public hearings …
In August 1996, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors approve what will be broadly called “the merger” with Community, and Fresno becomes the largest California county to get out of the business of operating a public hospital … On Oct. 7, 1996, the key to the county hospital is turned over to Community.
In the years between the 1996 “merger” and the 2007 “move,” there were costly expansions of the original campus plan, extensions on contract deadlines, new regulations, increasing numbers of uninsured people, political and health care policy upheavals, more Baby Boomers, quotas requiring more nurses, and fewer nurses and doctors available.
The merger is recognized as a one-of-a-kind partnership that has helped Fresno County to avert the unraveling of public health services that is continuing in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere.
And now a true academic regional medical is being born.
John G. Taylor, Community’s director of public affairs, covered health care and the 1996 merger as a reporter for The Fresno Bee. He can be reached at email@example.com.