For nearly 10 months now, Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley has been managing the hospital and associated clinics for Tehachapi. We deeply appreciate the warm welcome we have received from the community and staff. It’s time for an update on our progress. There have been a number of changes and many more are still to come.

The biggest change — the one everyone wants to hear about — is when the new hospital will open. The Tehachapi Valley Healthcare District has been hard at work wrapping up the last few construction details. They anticipate turning the building over to Adventist Health by early August, dependent on upcoming final inspections. Once Adventist Health has the building, the first thing we will do — ironically — is a number of construction changes. For instance, to license the hospital, we need to bring the pharmacy up to 2017 code. This requires several changes, including different air handling for drug compounding. Once these construction changes are complete, we will begin a process called “staff and stock.” This is when we put in furniture, set up computers and phones, revise our policies and procedures to reflect a new building, and literally stock the building with supplies.

After that, we will request the California Department of Public Health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to come out for an on-site license survey to be able to start seeing patients. Once we have the license, then we will do the physical move of the patients and equipment that will be transferred from the existing facility … and the new facility will be open for business. If this sounds like there’s still a lot of work to be done, there is! While there are many variables in these steps that can change the timeline, our best estimate for opening is the first quarter of 2018.

Meanwhile, we want to extend our gratitude to the Guild for both their historic support of the hospital and what they have contributed since Adventist Health arrived. Many thanks for the recent donation of pulmonary and ultrasound equipment. This updated equipment provides an improved level of care and diagnostics.

Staff and system changes are afoot also. With Tehachapi Valley one of the 20 Adventist Health hospitals, we are part of two major, enterprise-wide initiatives this year. Finance and Human Resource departments are being centralized to our corporate office in Roseville. Additionally, we have added some new positions which will further our effectiveness and mission. The new positions include a full-time chaplain and volunteer coordinator, a process improvement director, and a position in charge of expanding our rural health clinics. We have also hired an RN, who is experienced in opening surgery centers as our perioperative director to manage the planning and opening of the new surgical suites in the new facility. While we anticipate our surgery service line to begin a few months after the hospital opens, we need to start preparation now for that and the other added service lines.

Adding these staff positions naturally means they need a place to sit and, unfortunately, we don’t have a single vacant office in our current facility. While we wait for access to the new hospital, we are setting up one of the retired surgery rooms in the existing facility as office space. Fortunately, between what we have in storage and what our sister facility, Adventist Health Bakersfield has in storage, this will be a zero-cost, temporary solution.

I am also happy to report that on Aug. 14, our permanent president, Jeff Lingerfelt, will join us. He comes to us from Illinois with a strong background in small and critical access hospitals. We look forward to him and his wife, Jenny, becoming part of our community and we know the Lingerfelts feel the same way.

Speaking of staff, we continue to have a shortage of RNs, requiring us to use “travelers” — nurses who contract their services — to be able to cover shifts. If you know of an RN who may be interested in working in Tehachapi, please send him or her our way! We look forward to adding more positions in the future and being a major employer in the area.

Another big — and time-consuming — project is setting up new contracts with insurance payors. We recognize there has been confusion and conflicting information being circulated regarding whether or not AHTV still accepts some insurance carriers. Fortunately, we are nearing the end of the process of establishing new contracts and, in the meantime, nearly all of the contracts that are still in process will continue to accept patients and retro-bill once the contract is signed. The source of truth on contracts is our Patient Financial Services department. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to them.

As we move forward, please know that Adventist Health looks forward to helping grow the local economy and serving the community’s healthcare needs for many, many years to come. And, as always, patient care will be our top priority.

David Eastman, AHTV interim president