Kids Day

Valley Children’s network is expanding across the region. What does that mean for your family?

Like the children it helps, Valley Children’s Healthcare network is growing each year. And each year, it grows closer together, too.

At the start of February, the healthcare network opened Pelandale Specialty Care Center in Modesto. Last fall, it opened Eagle Oaks Specialty Care Center in Bakersfield. Both centers are outpatient facilities.

A new facility is planned in Merced close to Mercy Medical Center and another in Visalia at Highway 99 and Caldwell Avenue. A state-of-the-art facility in Fowler is set to open in May. And planners have an eye on prospects for a new facility at the southern edge of Sacramento.

Between the new facility to the south and the early plans to the north, some existing hospitals in the Valley also partner with Valley Children’s by housing pediatric doctors in their facilities, like at Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia and Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville and others. Those partnerships aim to provide the same services a patient would get at a Valley Children’s facility.

Overall, the scale of investments past and present by Valley Children’s has been upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars, all in the name of connecting the hospital to urban and rural Valley areas.

The fairly quiet growth of Valley Children’s shouldn’t come as a big surprise. After all, there is certainly room -- and a need -- to grow in a Valley where it is the nearest children’s hospital between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Valley Children’s has grown progressively for the last two decades, President and CEO Todd Suntrapak said. But for the last seven years, the healthcare network has seen an even stronger expansion of services and facilities in the Valley, he added. Back in 2010, Suntrapak said, the Valley Children’s Healthcare Network board took a step forward and updated their mission statement to better reflect their intentions.

“It’s more than just being here and doing a great job and solving whatever problem and then sending the patient home,” Suntrapak said. “You have to understand ‘Why do kids get sick in the first place?”

He continued, “Every single county we serve is medically under served in pediatrics as identified by the federal government.” Suntrapak said installing more pediatric doctors in greater numbers and in closer proximity to patients in the Valley have been one of their main objectives.

“We are focusing on and building a network so that every family in the Valley is within 30 minutes or 30 miles of one of Valley Children’s doctors,” Suntrapak said. “The closer we can create our services and deliver the quality of our services to where patients live, the better chance we have to improving the health status of kids.”

Suntrapak noted several issues plaguing the Valley’s children. Among them are poor water, bad air and lack of green space. Those issues become harder to solve, Suntrapak said, when the severity varies from one zip code to the next. He considers a child’s zip code a good predictor of a child’s health status.

The millions of dollars that have been invested in Valley hospitals and new Valley Children’s facilities have aimed to alleviate the Valley of its health disruptions.

On a smaller scale, the Valley Children’s expansion seeks to improve the quality of health access while also diminishing stress among families who used to, or may still, travel far distances just to see a Valley Children’s doctor.

“We’ve saved (money) a long time to be able to do this,” Suntrapak said. “This is the right time to make an investment.”

Note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version to accurately report when the facility in Fowler will open.

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Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a journalist at The Fresno Bee. He covers the people and places experiencing economic and social inequity for The California Divide media collaboration. He grew up in the southern San Joaquin Valley and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State.