Story by Melissa Withnell
hen Kaweah Health began treating patients 60 years ago, the health-care provider made a commitment to transform care in this region. Over the years, it has served our communities through education, research and patient care — and, over time, has expanded to become one
of Central California’s best integrated health systems, leading others by enhancing what is and passionately pursuing what can be.
Since its founding, Kaweah Health has grown exponentially from its beginnings as a 68-bed community hospital to a health-care system and enterprise with eight campuses across Tulare and Kings counties, anchored by a 435-bed acute medical center in downtown Visalia. With a 54-bed long-term care hospital on Court Street, a 61-bed acute and skilled rehabilitation hospital, and a 63-bed acute psychiatric facility on Akers Street, its combined 613 licensed in-patient beds make Kaweah Health the largest district hospital in the state of California.
But Kaweah Health is now much more than a hospital or medical center. It has become a comprehensive, technology-rich, integrated health system with numerous outpatient clinics and urgent care centers; hospice and home health; home infusion therapy; dialysis and cancer care; therapies and wound care; mental health; cardiac surgery; neurosurgery; vascular surgery; trauma, and many other essential health services.
Furthermore, in 2013, Kaweah Health began its Graduate Medical Education (GME) Program, becoming a teaching hospital for resident physicians from around the world training in emergency medicine, family medicine, psychiatry, surgery, anesthesiology and transitional year. This year, Kaweah Health will add a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship to its program. The first class of physicians graduated in June 2016 and, since the program’s inception, Kaweah Health has graduated 118 resident physicians — 45 percent of whom have remained in the Central Valley to practice medicine.
Kaweah Health’s transformative drive inspired the team to rethink how it wants its story told and how the previous name, Kaweah Delta, impacted its purpose in the community.
“Roughly 10 years ago, we looked around us and watched as well-known hospitals and health systems began to change their names,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health chief executive officer. “The names that emerged were shorter and simpler but more powerful, more recognizable and more reflective of the health systems’ broadening offering of services and their changing role in their communities. These hospitals rebranded themselves, in part, to reflect the evolving role of hospitals from healers of sickness and injury to champions of health and wellness.”
While Kaweah Health has been pondering a rebrand for the 10 years or so, the idea became more focused two years ago when the health system adopted a new mission and vision statement, and enhanced its foundational pillars to better reflect its commitment, passion and raison d’être.
“A couple years ago during our annual strategic planning process, we engaged our employees, medical staff, Board of Directors and members of the community to review our organization’s mission and vision statements,” said Marc Mertz, Kaweah Health vice president and chief strategy officer. “It was during that process the group said the name Kaweah Delta and our branding no longer reflected who we had become. Participants felt the name Kaweah Health paid homage to our history, but better reflected that we were no longer just a hospital that treats the ill and wounded, but we are a health system committed to improving the health of our community.”
Then, shortly before the brand launch in the spring of 2020, the pandemic arrived and delayed rebranding plans by more than a year. “We thought long and hard about launching a new brand during the COVID pandemic,” Mertz said. “But we felt it highlighted and celebrated the amazing commitment, compassion and dedication our teams showed during the last 18 months.”
On May 1, 2021, Kaweah Health was finally introduced to the world, and Herbst is confident in the continued success of the health system.
“We continue to expand our regional reach, partnerships and affiliations with leaders in health care, such as the Cleveland Clinic, Valley Children’s Hospital and the University of Southern California,” said Herbst. “And the rebranding changes are necessary to clearly identify us as a unified, unique, regional entity and California health-care system. This is what will allow us to give pay raises, offer great benefits, fund our retirement plans, and allow us to continue to invest in new services, new technologies, new facilities, and recruit and retain the best and brightest employees and providers.”
New facilities include the newly constructed and vastly expanded Emergency Department, which opened to the public on Aug. 18, 2021, after experiencing delays. The Kaweah Health Emergency Department is one of the busiest in California, caring for about 90,000 patients each year in an older facility that was originally designed to support the treatment of 72,000 patients a year. The lack of space and patient beds was a growing problem for Kaweah Health, especially considering that the medical center is the only trauma center between Fresno and Bakersfield, and one of only three emergency departments serving nearly 500,000 residents in Tulare County. The modern design and spacious layout of the new Emergency Department increases patient beds from 41 to 74, and more than doubles the size of the waiting area to provide 100+ patients and their families with a larger, more comfortable environment.
Kaweah Health is also making primary care easier to access for local residents by opening a new multispecialty health clinic in the city of Tulare. “We constantly assess our community’s health-care needs,” said Mertz. “The Central Valley is very underserved when it comes to health care. If there is an unmet need that we know we can fill with outstanding care, we are going to try to bring that service to the community.”
Herbst agrees. “The pandemic has been tough for every health system, including ours. We need to rebuild our financial reserves and our performance, and that can only come from growth where Kaweah Health is viewed and trusted by our community and service area as the provider of choice. The first line of our mission statement now reads: Health is our Passion — not healthcare but ‘health,’ like a marriage vow that promises to take care of you in both sickness and health. That is our promise to our community.”