Modesto rehab hospital hustles to get ready for patients

kcarlson@modbee.comJune 12, 2013 

    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken

— It's a tall order to get a hospital running again after the place has sat vacant for three years.

New equipment and beds are purchased. All those oxygen pipes in the walls are refurbished. Employees are hired and trained to work as a team.

Central Valley Specialty Hospital at 17th and H streets in Modesto was far enough along to hold an open house for the public Wednesday. The independent, 100-bed hospital expects to open for patients in mid-July, pending approvals from the California Department of Public Health.

Central Valley is the fourth rehabilitation hospital owner to occupy the former City Hospital building since the private hospital closed 23 years ago. Kindred Hospital Modesto vacated the three-story building in early 2010 after getting in trouble with regulators.

Gia Smith, Central Valley's chief executive officer, not only needs to get the hospital operating but also has worked to convince the public that quality care will be given to patients.

Smith said the hospital will provide a vital service for patients who have suffered strokes, heart attacks or injuries that require rehab therapy to restore functioning. Right now, some of those patients wait in beds at Modesto hospitals or are transferred to rehab centers in Lodi, Fresno or the Bay Area.

The hospital will have 36 acute rehab beds on the first floor and 64 skilled nursing or subacute beds forventilator-dependent patients on the other floors.

"It's unrealistic for a family to travel 90 miles for this type of care," Smith said. "(A local facility) allows a family to be invested with the therapy. It helps us give them the optimal level of care."

Smith said millions of dollars were spent refurbishing the rooms and equipping the hospital with a radiology unit and a full-service lab required by the state. The accommodations include private, semiprivate and larger rooms with up to four beds.

She showed off other features, such as a Pyxis pharmacy system designed to prevent medication errors. It requires fingerprint recognition for nurses to use the system, and staff can't remove medication unless it's profiled for the patient.

The hospital has a beauty shop to give patients a sense of well-being. Its rehab center has a wide variety of exercise equipment for patients who will need up to 15 hours of therapy a week.

Dr. Vance Roget, medical rehab director, said stroke patients may need therapy to help them speak again, walk or swallow food. He said studies have shown that every dollar spent on rehab therapy saves $3 in traditional health care.

Central Valley hired 160 employees after receiving 1,200 applications at its job fairs held in Modesto in February. The facility has provided job opportunities for nursing graduates from Modesto Junior College, workers laid off from other hospitals and others who were looking for a change of pace.

Pharmacy Director Susan Howard formerly worked at Oak Valley Hospital in Oakdale. "I came here to be part of a startup," Howard said. "It's challenging and rewarding at the same time."

Lisa Hull, a nurse for 27 years, has helped to tutor younger nurses who are being brought in for training before the hospital opens. Hull was hired for her experience with central catheters.

Nurse Manager Lori Norris, who came over from Stanislaus Surgical Hospital, said about half the nurses on her floor are new graduates from Modesto Junior College or the California State University, Stanislaus, program.

The center also hired nurses assistants who were laid off from Memorial Medical Center in January, she said. "It's a nice mix of people with different experience levels," Norris said. Central Valley still is looking for qualified lab employees.

Dr. Gurpreet Singh, a gastroenterologist, hired Smith to oversee the start-up of the hospital. Smith has said she opened two rehab hospitals in New Jersey and has the regional accent.

She said the regulations in California are different, but "what I have seen is everyone is helpful. Here, I have to prove myself and let people know I'm here for quality of care."

For information about the hospital, call (209) 248-7700.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or (209) 578-2321.

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