(Above left) The County Board of Supervisors, Mayors of Santa Paula and Fillmore, Ventura County Healthcare Agency and others cut the official ribbon dedicating the newly refurbished Santa Paula Hospital. (Above right) Following the official ribbon cutting several hundred people filed into the front door of the newly refurbished Santa Paula Hospital. Photos by Don Johnson

Dedication draws hundreds to Santa Paula Hospital

June 28, 2006
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesSanta Paula and Ventura County Fire engines were stationed at the top of the hill, ladders flying an American flag as busloads of people again found themselves overlooking the Santa Clara River Valley as they went to the hospital.“At last!” exclaimed Lucille Sparkman joyously, a sentiment common to the more than 300 people that attended Saturday’s dedication of Santa Paula Hospital, due to open in a few weeks.The former Administrative Assistant to the late James Knight - who oversaw the nonprofit hospital for decades - Sparkman was among the hundreds of former Santa Paula Hospital employees, elected officials, doctors, nurses and supporters on hand for the festivities that marked the return of the “Hospital on the Hill.”“It’s a fabulous day and we’re very, very close,” to reopening the hospital, said Administrator Dr. Sam Edwards, who oversaw the return of the hospital to the Santa Clara River Valley.Shuttered in December 2003 with directors declaring bankruptcy within days, Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause said that it was worth the hard work to bring the hospital back.Krause, who chaired the River Valley Ad Hoc Committee, formed in January 2003 when the hospital’s financial failure was announced, noted that the reopening is the “beautiful cumulation of three and a half years of work. This would not have happened without the efforts of a lot of people,” including those in Santa Paula, Ventura County and the state.A beaming Vice Mayor Ray Luna and Councilman John Procter also attended the dedication.“It’s perfect,” said County Supervisor Judy Mikels, chair of the Ventura County Medical Center Oversight Committee. “I think the citizens of the river valley who walk through those doors are going to be surprised...it’s gorgeous and - combined with top flight medical care - what they deserve.”“It’s wonderful, just wonderful,” said Jody Caudillo, the former President of the then Santa Paula Memorial Hospital Auxiliary.Opened in 1961 as one of the only three community built hospitals in the state, after its closure the city and county worked with the Creditors Committee to acquire the hospital campus for $2.75 million. The county spent about $4.5 million for facility repairs and upgrades as well as state of the art medical equipment.“Welcome to your Santa Paula Hospital,” Health Care Agency Director Michael Powers announced to cheers as he started the program.“What a glorious day!” said Supervisor Kathy Long who worked closely with the city on the hospital issue. “Babies will again be born here, the sick child will be healed, the emergency doors will again be open...it’s a day to celebrate the rebirth,” of the hospital offering the only Emergency Room in the river valley.Long noted the many “familiar faces” of past SPMH employees who have returned to work “because they care and are committed to serving you.”Long credited “Community members that kept the hope alive,” as well as the Board of Supervisors, former Health Agency Director Pierre Durand and Dr. Sam among others. “They stuck with it, they knew it made a difference to this valley” and never gave up on the quest to reopen the hospital.“If you want happiness for a lifetime help somebody,” noted Long. “I have great happiness today...”
“...there are so many heroes,” that were involved in the reopening noted Dr. Sam. “Hundreds of people are part of the story,” of the hospital from its initial conception, those who donated to the day in September 1961 that it opened, “a dream realized...”Dr. Ernest Carlson, a former longtime SPMH director, was and remains “a cheerleader...the hospital fell on hard times and closed but now we begin anew after a brief hiatus,” Dr. Sam said. “It’s not just a hospital,” but now part of a “huge system” offering the best in medical and mental health care.“It’s a pleasure to bring you the reincarnation of Santa Paula Hospital,” he added.Supervisor Linda Parks said she had doubts about the county acquisition but the “gentle and continuous prodding,” by Long helped make the reopening a reality.Mayor Rick Cook - who first noted that Martha Knight, James Knight’s widow, was in the audience - said that when the financial reversal of the hospital was made public the Council and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz “called everyone we could” to avert the closure.“With the help of the county our fears” of not having a readily available ER are gone. “This hospital saves lives and is unique” as a community asset. “I can’t wait to hear the ambulance come up the hill,” to the hospital and not entering Highway 126, times when Cook said he feared the patient might not survive the trip to an outside hospital.“Without everybody, Ventura County supervisors, Fillmore, Santa Paula and Fillmore we wouldn’t be here today,” Cook added.The reopening is an example of “community spirit” said Fillmore Mayor Ernie Villegas.Assemblywoman Audra Strickland noted that the reopening is an “extraordinary” event and offered congratulations for “this tremendous asset for the Santa Clara River Valley.”Latino Town Hall believes that the reopening of the hospital is a “great step for healthcare to Latinos and the community...thank you for all your efforts to serve the river valley,” said Councilman Gabino Aguirre.Valley residents much support the hospital although Janet Bergamo, President of the Piru Neighborhood Council, said she wasn’t implying that people get sick but rather “volunteer and encourage the use of the hospital by physicians.”Support can also be financial noted Marsha Rae, President of the Santa Clara Valley Wellness Foundation who said the offshoot of the SPMH Foundation has “expanded our mission” to include purchases of medical equipment.The ribbon was cut and the doors to the hospital again opened as hundreds of people entered the facility, some in tears as they toured the refurbished Hospital on the Hill that soon will again be back in business.

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