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SJCH Partners with Loma Linda University Medical Center to Create a Neonatal ICU

Childbirth Over the past year, San Joaquin Community Hospital (SJCH) has introduced multiple revolutionary services to better meet the needs of Kern County. Our 64-slice CT scanner is the only such hospital-based equipment in the county, while our Nationally Certified Stroke Center and Grossman Burn Center have raised the level of trauma care for the entire region.

To start the new year, we’re introducing another.

In an effort to become a comprehensive center for newborn care, San Joaquin Community Hospital, in conjunction with Loma Linda University Medical Center, is set to open a ground-breaking nine-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) within the county’s only 5-Star Rated Maternity Care Center.
Though there are currently three NICU’s in Kern County, SJCH’s affiliation with Loma Linda will elevate the SJCH NICU in terms of quality, knowledge and ability to bring the highest level of NICU care to the community.

The Deciding Difference
An NICU is an intensive care unit that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of ill or premature infants. To denote the degree of care a maternity center is capable of providing, a classification made up of four different levels is assigned to a given facility.

Similar to the other three NICU’s in Bakersfield, the SJCH NICU will be a level 3, or community level NICU. Level 1 describes basic maternity care services while level 2 defines centers that ultimately hope to transition to NICU status. Few and far between, level-4 NICU’s—such as Loma Linda—provide total tertiary care for infants. It is the association with this level-4 institution that will allow SJCH to potentially provide full-scale tertiary care in Bakersfield.

Though the center will be operated and licensed by SJCH, Dr. Sudhir Patel, MD, will serve as the medical director, joining the Loma Linda staff in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. Patel is excited to be part of this partnership and he explained what this association will mean for the community.

“Not only will this addition at SJCH bring additional, desperately-needed NICU beds to Bakersfield, but the association with Loma Linda will allow us to begin on a much higher level than if we were on our own,” Patel said. “In addition to having guidance from their administrative support and expertise, we will have the potential for direct access with their specialists to provide tertiary care at San Joaquin Community Hospital rather than having to transport the infants to a different facility.”

Looking Forward
Even before SJCH’s award-winning Maternity Care Center was complete, Debbie Hankins, vice president of nursing, knew this day would come.

“When we opened our new Maternity Care Center it was very obvious that we would need a level-3 NICU in order to ultimately provide the highest level of care,” Hankins said. “It was always our goal to be affiliated with a world-class center celebrated for its reputation and outcomes. And that’s exactly what we’ve done in partnering with Loma Linda.”

Loma Linda will be a mentor facility for SJCH throughout this partnership by providing ancillary support, clinical direction and telemedicine opportunities.

In addition to a shared medical vision, SJCH and Loma Linda share a mission that extends deeper than medicine can reach. Affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, both facilities are focused on sharing God’s love with the communities they serve. The chance to partner with not only an excellent medical center, but one with a like-minded mission, is an opportunity Hankins feels will strengthen the comprehensive care that SJCH strives to provide the community.

“It’s one thing to heal people physically,” Hankins said. “But our mission calls us to focus on mental and spiritual healing as well. It’s a call that we take very seriously and wherever possible, seek to associate ourselves with organizations, like Loma Linda, built on that same set of values.”

Through updating equipment, providing new service lines and learning how to better treat the whole person, 2008 has been a year of growth and expansion for SJCH. As 2009 begins, the hospital is dedicated to building on that success by increasing the community’s number of NICU beds and providing a high level of neonatal care that ensures your baby nurturing love and all-inclusive care, right here in Bakersfield.