Launched by residents and leaders of the Tri-Valley eager for robust local health care, Valley Memorial Hospital, now Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, celebrates 60 years of service to its community.
October 8, 2021 - By Hadley Leggett
Sixty years ago, when residents of the Tri-Valley, in the East Bay, had a health crisis or needed a medical specialist, they had no choice but to travel 20 miles to Hayward or 30 miles to Oakland.
That changed in 1961, after residents of the then-patchwork of small townships launched a campaign to raise money — sometimes $1 at a time — and leaders secured grants to build what would become Valley Memorial Hospital. Over the years, the facility has kept pace with the growing Tri-Valley region, offering comprehensive medical care and serving as a training ground for the next generation of clinicians.
In 2015, ValleyCare expanded its care and medical education options by joining Stanford Medicine to become Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare.
“Historically, ValleyCare has always been a traditional, community-based health care system,” said Richard Shumway, the organization’s president and CEO. “And for 60 years, ValleyCare has done that really, really well. But joining the Stanford family has allowed us to bring really high-end, complex programs — usually only available at academic medical centers — directly into the community.”
Founded by and for the Tri-Valley community
In the late 1950s, the Tri-Valley region — which comprises the Amador, San Ramon and Livermore valleys — was made of up small towns surrounded by farmland and ranches. The area’s only hospital was a small, 18-bed facility in Livermore that wasn’t equipped to provide critical or emergency care or treat complex illnesses.
For the region to thrive, community leaders realized they needed a bigger hospital. Plans moved forward in earnest after the Kaiser Paving Co. donated a piece of land in downtown Livermore to build the facility.
“Then it was really the community that began the fund drive,” said John Yee, MD, vice president of clinical initiatives for Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, who joined the hospital in 1982.
Residents, Yee said, walked door to door seeking donations, and local employers ran pledge drives. “Every month, every paycheck, they’d donate $1, or $2, or $10,” he said. “The community is really how the hospital came about, and the board of directors came out of these members who pledged money into the system.”
Local leaders also applied for government grants to match the community-raised funds, and on Oct. 2, 1961, Valley Memorial Hospital opened with 46 beds and a staff of 23.
Legacy of community involvement
As more people moved to the Tri-Valley, the hospital grew to accommodate their health needs. In 1969, a third floor was added to the building, expanding capacity to 110 beds. Five years later, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare purchased a 23-acre parcel of land in Pleasanton to build what would become the main medical center and hospital campus in 1991.
Through all the expansions, Yee said, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare’s community focus and culture of caring remained constant.
“We’re supported by the community, we care about the community, and almost everybody you take care of knows somebody else who’s involved with the hospital in some fashion,” Yee said.
That legacy continues through the ValleyCare Charitable Foundation, which was recently folded into the Stanford Medicine Office of Medical Center Development. The development office helps fund new technology and equipment for Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare.
“Our history is really quite amazing,” said nurse educator Jeanette Kitt, RN, who has worked at Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare for 45 years. “The community came together to fund the building of the hospital, and has continued to show strong support for it all these years.”
Most recently, she said, local donors helped finance the development of a new stroke program, certified by the Joint Commission as a primary stroke center in 2019. The program recently was awarded the Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award from the American Heart Association.
Joining Stanford Medicine
Since joining Stanford Medicine, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare has gained a competitive edge in recruiting more specialists and subspecialists, and it has been able to fund infrastructure upgrades and make significant updates to its treatment protocols in oncology, orthopaedics, stroke recovery and other specialties, Shumway said.
Joining the Stanford family has allowed us to bring really high-end, complex programs — usually only available at academic medical centers — directly into the community.
“It’s exciting to see the growth we’ve had, to be able to offer all these amazing programs that, five years ago, we never could have even thought about offering,” said Monica Davila, RN, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare’s chief nursing officer.
Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare, she said, has partnered with local nursing colleges for years to bring Tri-Valley students into the hospital for clinical rotations, often recruiting them to stay. “As we continue to raise the bar in nursing at ValleyCare, we are still very much attracting people from within our community,” Davila said.
Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare has also given Stanford Medicine medical residents and students an opportunity to experience community-focused medicine.
“ValleyCare gives Stanford a test bed for innovative technology, research and education. With just 160 beds, it’s a smaller environment, allowing us to try new things in a streamlined way,” said David Svec, MD, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare’s chief medical officer.
Leveraging community involvement to combat COVID-19
Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare community connections have been key to responding to one of the nation’s biggest health challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic. Because ValleyCare leaders already served on many local boards and committees, they were well-positioned to help with the public health response.
“Luckily, we've had close partnerships with a lot of organizations and governmental structures around the Tri-Valley,” Svec said. For instance, in collaboration with the cities of Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton, as well as with Alameda County, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare converted the Alameda County Fairgrounds into one of the largest COVID-19 testing sites in the East Bay, performing hundreds of thousands of tests during the first peak of the pandemic.
When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare and local health organizations joined forces to turn the fairgrounds into a mass-vaccination site.
Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare experts also provided public education and outreach about topics such as infection control, safety at the hospital, how to safely reopen businesses and schools, and vaccination effectiveness and hesitancy.
“From a COVID perspective,” Shumway said, “we’ve certainly continued our integration into the community.”
Today, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare serves a population of more than 350,000 in the Tri-Valley, one of the fastest-growing regions in California.
“It’s important that we continue to grow and develop with the growth and development of the community,” Shumway said.
Looking to the next 60 years, Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare plans to continue to build on the quality of its medical services and expand them beyond the immediate Tri-Valley region.
“If somebody’s in Stockton or Fresno or North Oakland,” Shumway said, “we want them to have access to Stanford-level programs at the same level as somebody in Palo Alto might. But we also want to make sure the commitment and passion that ValleyCare has always had for our local community shines through — so it’s really the best of both worlds.”
Learn more about Stanford Health Care – ValleyCare’s legacy and future here.
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.