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New year, new plans at Henry Mayo

Santa Clarita Valley’s only remaining hospital moves forward on expansions

Posted: January 7, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Construction crews continue their work on the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Education Center. Signal photo by Dan Watson.

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New structures, new technology and new staff are combining at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital these days to provide new services at the Santa Clarita Valley’s only hospital.

Dec. 1 marked a major achievement as the hospital qualified for treating victims of the most serious level of heart attack through a combination of a new receiving center for heart attack victims, expanded lab facilities for treating those victims and — perhaps most challenging of all — a full complement of physicians required to offer 24/7 open-heart surgery at Henry Mayo, spokeswoman Katreena Salgado said recently.

Hospital officials estimate eight to 15 Santa Clarita Valley patients a month suffering from ST Elevated Myocardial Infarctions — the most critical type of heart attack — were taken to other hospitals for treatment before the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency designated Henry Mayo a STEMI Receiving Center.

During the first five days of December, two such patients were treated at Henry Mayo’s newly designated facility, said Tamar Avakian, nurse practitioner for the hospital’s cardiovascular services.

“Without our even knowing, they would drive right by our hospital,” Avakian said of ambulances responding to acute heart attack patients after hours.

The hospital’s expanded cardio care lab opened in mid-2012, but building the staff to qualify for the 24/7 receiving center designation took time, Salgado said.

Victories like the STEMI designation are particularly sweet for longtime Henry Mayo executives and employees who have struggled to build the small suburban hospital, which suffered financial problems in the early 2000s, into a successful medical complex that meets the needs of a community with both an aging and a young-family populace.

Plagued by the costs of 1994 Northridge earthquake damage and other financial setbacks in the early 2000s, Henry Mayo emerged from bankruptcy in 2003 with a four-year reorganization plan that included paying all creditors in full.

Plans called for the hospital to greatly expand its campus with the help of a Beverly Hills firm, G&L Realty, which would help underwrite the campus expansion in exchange for building its own medical office buildings on the campus.

There followed a years-long process of approving a master plan with the city of Santa Clarita that would allow for the G&L structures to be built, along with enlarging and modernizing the hospital itself.

The move proved unpopular with Valencia residents who live near the hospital and drew some opposition from others throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. Hospital neighbors pointed outthe facility is in a residential neighborhood and called for it to retain its low-profile roof line.

But development plans called for Henry Mayo to build upward to expand.

The issue became a political football for the City Council, which finally approved the 15-year master plan in December 2008.

Failure to do so, some health care professionals argued, would condemn Henry Mayo to second-rate hospital status during an era when hospitals that can’t keep up with changes close their doors permanently.

Closure of Henry Mayo would have left the Santa Clarita Valley, which once had four hospitals, without a single one.
Five years after the master plan approval, the campus has taken on an entirely new, and increasingly vertical, look. 

The opening of a new and updated operating room provided the opportunity for a number of new services and eventually led to the STEMI designation, Avakian said.

Besides the new cardiac catheterization lab, 2012 saw the arrival of the $6 million Kim and Steven Ullman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, allowing babies in need of intensive care to remain in the Santa Clarita Valley.

This year the hospital plans to open its new education center, located in a building currently under construction, which will allow staff to take continuing-education classes on campus, rather than driving to Los Angeles.

But the big project this year is the patient tower — perhaps the most controversial among the proposed new buildings because it will be the tallest. The patient tower is expected to be six levels high and 85 feet tall and is currently in design. Construction is due to begin this year.

Some residents remain unhappy at the rapid conversion of the once-sleepy community hospital to a multiple-stories-tall medical complex.

An evergreen tree near the main entrance of the hospital that once served as the official community holiday tree will give way this year to the fourth parking structure on the campus, which will be mostly underground.

The annual tree-lighting ceremony at the hospital was usurped in 2013 by a grand holiday lighting event in downtown Newhall that centered on the Newhall Library.

Valencia resident Joy Kieffer, who lives near the hospital, said she treasured the community ceremony held the first Sunday of each December.

“I’m not against progress, but I’m just heartbroken and disappointed. That tree lighting went on for 23 years,” Kieffer said.

“It was tradition for here in Santa Clarita. It’s kind of like taking away the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting.”

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