By Dominic Dizon, M.D.
Here in the heart of the Central Valley, despite all the economic woes and political uncertainties facing our country, we believe that the future is bright and excellent for health care.
Notwithstanding the current housing market slow down, we have still seen a rapid growth in the population of the Central Valley, an increase in the number of new communities, and an improvement in the standard of living over the past two decades.
Because health care is such an integral part of everyone's lives, the expansion and/or creation of acute care facilities and hospitals that serve the Valley has tremendous impact on the wellbeing of our community. Some of these new and/or improved facilities include:
Childrens Hospital of Central California
For us that live nearby, we've already gotten used to thinking of our own leader in children's care as having been around for years. But make no mistake, Children's Hospital of Central California is brand new and state of the art. Its neonatal intensive care unit ranks among the best in the nation and a new expansion featuring private rooms (21 private & 2 semi-private)—a first in California—has just been completed, helping parents and premature babies stay bonded and active in their care. The hospital is also now home to 500 doctors practicing in over 40 pediatric subspecialties. They currently see more than 12,000 inpatient cases, 50,000 ER and urgent care visits, and perform more than 9,000 surgeries per year. What's even better is that they continue to expand their inpatient and outpatient facilities and continue to do scholarly research. This is essential in our region due to the highest incidence of asthma in children (1 in 3 children as opposed to 1 in 6, the state average).
Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC)
CRMC, allied with the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program is home to a new academic medical center, the only Level 1 Trauma Center, and 24/7 comprehensive Burn Center between Sacramento and Los Angeles. At CRMC, the only tertiary, or third level, non-compulsory, care academic medical center in the Valley, an impressive football field-size emergency room serves thousands of patients per year as the 3rd busiest ER in the state.
Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital
Open since 2003, this facility recently expanded its services to include bariatric and general surgery, in addition to cardiac and vascular care. The facility has made headlines several times over the past year for its advancements and five-star rating for clinical excellence given by HealthGrades (an independent ratings organization). Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital is also home to two of just a handful of nurses in the country (and the only two in the Valley) who have obtained a newly available specialty certification: Certified Bariatric Nurse.
Kaiser Permanente has always been known as a leader in preventative medicine, made even more famous by its current Thrive campaign. But the HMO is equally preventative when it comes to increased accessibility to medical services and offices. Kaiser has kept up with the population demands of the greater Fresno area by opening new facilities in Clovis and Selma, further cutting down on the time and energy often expended by patients traveling for medical care.
Saint Agnes Medical Center
Saint Agnes, the recipient of big renovations in recent years, among other developments, boasts an expanded ER, Cardiovascular Institute, and new Neurosciences Center, which brings with it Saint Agnes' Stereotactic Radiosurgery Program and GammaKnife technology.
TECHNOLOGY & SERVICES
If Fresno has a reputation for being in the middle-of-nowhere, making travel to other cities a necessity, it isn't because of our medical services. Several facilities here in town boast world-class technology that enable local doctors to provide cutting-edge services ranging from screening and diagnostic procedures to precision-perfect surgical procedures. Having multiple options right here at home means that patients have choices when it comes to their health care. And there is now, truly, no need to leave town to get the best solutions. Some examples:
Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC)
CRMC has a state of the art perinatology program that is the only one in the region of its kind, providing services for high-risk pregnancies and deliveries. It recently became the first site in the country for the introduction of the STAN monitor, a device that monitors intrauterine fetal tones helping to assess fetal distress during labor. CRMC is also home to the Cyberknife Radiosurgery System, and was the first center in the world to have the 4th generation Cyberknife unit, Gen4, in place. This technology enables doctors and surgeons to perform non-invasive surgery with exact precision. Via the radiation produced from a small linear particle accelerator and a robotic arm, Gen4 allows energy to be directed at any part of the body from any direction. The CyberKnife system has FDA clearance for treatment of tumors in any location of the body. Some of the tumors treated include: pancreas, liver, prostate, brain and spinal lesions, head and neck cancers, and benign tumors.
Kaiser Permanente recently introduced the new CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) Telemonitoring System, which can monitor a patient's cardiac status from the comfort of their home. Moreover, Kaiser's new electronic health record system, the Epic System, allows providers and patients to communicate efficiently and effectively.
In the effort to wave goodbye to the days when Valley patients had to travel hundreds of miles away from home to receive the most advanced treatment options, Saint Agnes recently launched the Stereotactic Radiosurgery Program, which uses either the Gamma Knife or Novalis Shaped Beam to treat benign and malignant tumors. Both utilize highly focused beams of ionizing radiation contoured to the size and shape of the tumor, thereby protecting the surrounding, healthy tissue. Its indications are similar to those of Cyberknife and include brain tumors and spinal lesions as well as cancers of the lung, liver, pancreas and prostate.
In terms of meeting the demands of future access to health care, sustaining and continuing to improve upon all the great advances that have already been made, we are now building the bridges that will lead to the full spectrum of medical education here in the Central Valley. What was once a dream is fast becoming reality—a reality that will provide quality, accessible medical care for generations to come.
California State University, Fresno & Fresno Community Colleges
The importance of our main secondary educational institutions cannot be overstated. Fresno Community Colleges and California State University, Fresno have taken the lead in providing programs, scholarships, and incentives for students interested in pursuing careers in nursing, allied health professions (physical therapy, pharmacy, medical technology), dentistry and medicine.
One of the most exciting developments in the Central Valley was the opening of UC Merced in fall 2005. UC Merced is the tenth campus in the University of California system and the first research University built in the 21st century. UC Merced is a technologically advanced and environmentally-sustainable university that draws highly qualified and diverse students from the Valley and across the state. In May 2008, the UC Board of Regents approved UC Merced to continue planning for a School of Medicine. This endeavor has united the Central Valley and commanded attention from various community leaders and elected officials alike.
Access to health care and a high prevalence of chronic ailments such as asthma and diabetes are well documented as some of the Valley's biggest challenges. The planned medical school will enhance health care in the Valley, in part by aiming to increase the number of physicians practicing in the region. UC Merced is continuing its planning process with the goal of seeking Regents' approval to proceed with the medical school when the state's budget improves.
Under the leadership of Milo E. Rowell, a prominent Fresno attorney, support for building a local medical education program was achieved, and in 1975, through a partnership with the University of California, the UCSF Fresno Medical Education and Research Program was established. Since then, UCSF Fresno has graduated more than 2,000 physicians, of which one third end up practicing here in the Central Valley. In 2005, the program moved to its new Center for Medical Education and Research on the 58-acre campus of CRMC in the heart of downtown. At any given time, UCSF Fresno has more than 200 resident physicians and fellows training in programs such as Internal Medicine, Family and Community Medicine, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Psychiatry, Emergency Medicine, and Surgery as well as subspecialties in Cardiology, Pulmonary Medicine, Gastroenterology, Infectious Disease, Hospitalist Medicine, Minimally Invasive Surgery, Wilderness Medicine, and Trauma Critical Care Surgery. This is critical to our region, where there is a definite shortage of physicians and specialists to serve our population. UCSF was proudly recently rated as the 5th top medical school in the nation by the U.S. News & World Report. UCSF Fresno also started the Doctors Academy and Junior Doctors Academy for students interested in pursuing health careers.
University Centers of Excellence
Created in 2006, the University Centers of Excellence partners with UCSF Fresno to recruit top-notch clinicians who participate in scholarly clinical research projects, help educate and train the next generation of Valley doctors studying in Fresno and provide specialized patient care in conjunction with telemedicine technology. They now have 12 distinct sub-specialty facilities throughout Fresno.
A lot of things are pretty uncertain in our world right now but we thought that the new year would be a fitting time to focus on all the leaps and bounds our community has been making. And the best part is, no one hospital, no one educational facility, and no one new piece of technology could do it alone. The collective, cumulative efforts being made in the Central Valley as a whole, both right now and in the last several years, are the reason so much has been accomplished. As for the Future of Medicine in the Central Valley—there's no doubt the choices, investments, and advancements we're dedicated to making now will benefit and take care of our community for generations to come.