Our Heritage of Healing

Ensuring the community has the best health care possible has been the guiding spirit of Adventist Health Bakersfield throughout its history. This vision inspired the medical center’s founders more than a century ago, and this same commitment remains embedded in the medical center’s mission today.

Bakersfield and Kern County were still considered ‘the Wild West’ in the early part of the 20th century, but farmers were beginning to realize that the county’s rich soil would produce bountiful crops, and the discovery of oil became a magnet for workers from throughout the nation.

With a population of nearly 18,000, Kern County was booming in the early 1900s, bringing with it a growing need for adequate health care. This need attracted the attention of two young nurses – Margaret Quinn and Mary O’Donnell – who shared a passion for caring for the sick and injured. They became nurses at the small St. Clair Hospital at 16th and H Streets in Bakersfield.

Seeing firsthand the need for more adequate health care, the two nurses began shaping a vision for improved hospital facilities. Each woman had a nest egg of $500, but this was far short of the amount needed to build a new hospital. However, encouraged by friends and doctors, they soon developed a plan to make their dream a reality.

Mary persuaded her family to contribute $6,000 to the project and Sol Mack, manager of the Bank of Bakersfield, took out a loan for $5,000. The note was co-signed by J.A. Hughes, owner of a drug store at 19th and Chester, and Ms. Cora St. Clair.

A Hospital Takes Shape

Mary and Margaret purchased a quarter-block site at 27th and Eye Streets and began construction of a three-story building that would house 26 patients. They named the new institution San Joaquin Hospital. The first patient, thought to be a railroad or oil field worker, was received on October 6, 1910. The patient’s name has been lost in the mists of history, but the physician who treated him was Dr. Samuel Franklin Smith.

Margaret, who had impressive business skills as well as boundless energy and determination, assumed the role of administrator, while Mary concentrated on patient care. Margaret developed a methodical plan to pay off the hospital’s indebtedness, purchase additional land and enlarge the hospital. In just a few short years, the hospital doubled in size, adding a new surgery room, men’s and women’s wards, and a kitchen.

In 1914, Margaret bought out her partner, Mary, and assumed duties as business manager, nursing supervisor, anesthetist and laboratory technician. The hospital continued to grow and serve the Kern County community, and was indispensable during the disastrous flu epidemic of 1918-1919.

By 1929, Margaret, aging and suffering from cataracts, realized it was time to sell the hospital. The hospital was incorporated and sold in equal shares to doctors N.M. Brown, William P. Scott, George Buchner and F.A. Hamlin.

The hospital was sold again in 1937, to Dr. Joseph Smith, who envisioned the hospital as a professional medical and surgical institution. The hospital continued to develop under his leadership. In 1964, Dr. Smith urged a group of public spirited citizens to take over management of the hospital as a non-profit entity. Impressed by the care he had personally received from an Adventist hospital, Dr. Smith specifically requested that members of the hospital board be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The name of the hospital was changed to San Joaquin Community Hospital (SJCH) and a new age began. In 1987, SJCH became a member of Adventist Health; a not-for-profit health care system comprised of 20 acute-care facilities and affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Expanded Services

The new board of directors surveyed the area’s health needs, looking for innovative ways in which to serve the people of the Southern San Joaquin Valley. One fact soon stood out: the single greatest health hazard in America in the 1960s was heart and vascular disease. Among males, two out of three would ultimately die from some sort of heart vessel disease; yet Bakersfield had no modern heart catheterization laboratory. Nor was open heart surgery available in the area. Heart patients in the valley had to travel hundreds of miles to receive proper care.

There was clearly a pressing need for cardiac care. In 1972, SJCH opened the area’s first catheterization laboratory, using a then state-of-the-art 35mm film format. A month later, doctors at SJCH conducted Bakersfield’s first open heart surgery. The heart team was headed by Dr. Neil Arbegast, a surgeon who had trained under world-famous cardiac surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey. Also practicing at the hospital were additional cardiovascular surgeons and other specialized personnel capable of performing any heart or vascular procedure.

The creation of a skilled heart surgery team required the latest and most sophisticated equipment, which the hospital provided – and has continued to provide to this day.

Adventist Health Bakersfield remains Kern County’s leader for heart care. In 2016, Health grades®, an online resource for information on physicians and hospitals, recognized Adventist Health Bakersfield as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Cardiac Care and Coronary Intervention. Adventist Health Bakersfield was one of only two hospitals in the entire state of California, and the first in Kern County, to receive both of these recognitions.

Adventist Health Bakersfield is now working to create a comprehensive Heart Institute that will provide Bakersfield and Kern County with cutting-edge procedures and advanced technology in an environment that promotes healing and privacy.

Heart care was not the only area in which Adventist Health Bakersfield made advances through the years. In 1973, a new 166-bed hospital was opened across the street from the original facility. The addition housed a new intensive care unit featuring the best available equipment, including telemetry units that monitored a variety of vital functions and provided instantaneous reporting of each patient’s condition.

Then in May, 2007, Adventist Health Bakersfield opened a much-needed 130,000 square foot patient tower. The new five-story building expanded the Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Department and operating areas; provided a convenient patient drop-off and loading area; tripled the size of the maternity care center; and added a nine-bed neonatal intensive care unit. Once the new tower was completed, the existing hospital building was retrofitted to meet new seismic regulations and renovated to create more private patient rooms.

New and Expanded Services

The new tower provided Adventist Health Bakersfield with the necessary resources to offer state-of-the-art services previously unavailable in Kern County, including advanced stroke care. In 2008, the hospital opened the county’s first nationally-certified stroke center. To become nationally certified, the stroke center underwent a rigorous, on-site evaluation by The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs throughout the United States. The Joint Commission assessed the stroke program’s processes, quality performance, and its ability to improve care. Healthgrades® now ranks SJCH among the top five percent of hospitals nationwide for stroke care. The program has also earned the American Stroke Association’s Gold Plus Award – the highest honor for stroke care – for multiple years.

Adventist Health Bakersfield also serves the community through its mobile immunization program. Immunizations are one of the most important public health interventions in the United States. By immunizing children at an early age, the Adventist Health Bakersfield Children’s Mobile Immunization Program decreases the occurrence of many dreaded childhood diseases.

Since the program began in 1996, more than 55,000 children have been immunized against dangerous diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis A and B. When the program began, only 39 percent of Kern County’s children had up-to-date immunizations. Today, that figure is 95 percent and continuing to grow.

Advances in Cancer Care

As health care has changed, so has the need to diversify services and programs. In 2010, Adventist Health Bakersfield began developing a robust network of outpatient services, with the purchase of Quest Imaging. The most significant outpatient project to date has been the 60,000 square foot AIS Cancer Center, which opened in the spring of 2013.

The AIS Cancer Center was made possible through the largest fundraising effort in the hospital’s history. The Adventist Health Bakersfield Foundation raised more $6 million for the building, led by a $2 million gift from Advanced Industrial Services (AIS), in whose honor the center was named. The center’s motto of ‘You Can. We Can. Beat Cancer.’ emphasizes the community partnerships that have been so meaningful in developing this top-notch facility.

As only the second cancer center in the community, The AIS Cancer Center helps ensure that most cancer patients receive treatment without leaving Bakersfield. The center features advanced technology in a soothing environment, exemplified by the beautiful water feature in the Cornforth Family Pavilion. Affiliated with the UC Davis Cancer Care Network, the AIS Cancer Center provides medical and radiation treatment. Its teams include highly trained, board-certified oncologists, certified oncology nurses and radiation therapists.

Old, Yet New Again

Adventist Health Bakersfield is one of the largest employers in Kern County. As of 2016, the medical center had nearly 2,100 employees and 651 affiliated physicians, in addition to approximately 287 volunteers who contribute thousands of hours of service each year.

Adventist Health Bakersfield has seen many changes, and enormous technological advancements, since it admitted its first patient in 1910. What’s remained constant is the medical center’s commitment to quality health care. This dedication is rooted in the medical center’s Christian heritage, which dates back to 1866, when the first Seventh-day Adventist health care facility opened in Battle Creek Michigan. Today, inspired by a belief in the loving and healing power of Jesus Christ, Adventist Health Bakersfield and its medical offices bring physical, mental and spiritual health and healing to people of all faiths.