From rural hospital to regional healthcare destination, Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare has come a long way from having just 46 patient beds when it opened in Livermore 60 years ago, to becoming what leaders call an "intentionally, regionally integrated" source for the latest and most modern medical treatment in the Tri-Valley.
Known at the time as Valley Memorial Hospital, those 46 beds were quite an improvement from the former 18-bed St. Paul Hospital, which had served both Livermore and Pleasanton back in the 1950s.
As both communities outgrew the too-small facilities at St. Paul, local residents were eventually prompted to build the new hospital on Stanley Boulevard, using land donated by Kaiser Paving Company.
"One of the things I appreciate most about our organization, when you think about its history, is that it belongs to the community. It's the result of people in our community determining they needed something better than they had at the turn of the late 1950s, early 1960s," ValleyCare CEO Rick Shumway told the Weekly in an interview.
"For me, every single day, when I come to work, I take that very seriously," Shumway said. "It's about making sure our community is served in the best possible way it can be, and I'm inspired by that activity that happened over 60 years ago. It keeps us moving forward, a guiding principle of what we're doing every single day."
Valley Memorial officially opened on Oct. 2, 1961, and eventually increased its capacity to 110 beds in 1969. Since then, the non-profit ValleyCare Health System has grown into an expansive medical network that included the purchase of a 23-acre parcel of land at the corner of Santa Rita and West Las Positas in 1974, where ValleyCare Medical Center would be later built, and culminated in its merger with Stanford Health Care in 2015.
"It's unbelievable to hear them, how far things have come, the direct results of that vision the community had years ago that's allowed us to become who we are today," Shumway said. "There's a lot of people to be grateful for as a result of that."
Shumway added, "You look back at the journey and it's amazing, it's always gratifying to know when something got started and people had an idea about how it could be, to meet those expectations after so many years and exceed those as well. That's really gratifying for me to think about."
Though not around when Valley Memorial Hospital originally opened, Dr. John Yee is a 40-year veteran of the ValleyCare system. Yee was first recruited in 1982 to be medical director for respiratory therapy, started his full-time practice a year later and has served in various positions at ValleyCare over time, including chief of medical staff when the Pleasanton campus opened in 1991.
"So I have seen the transformation from that time until now," he said.
"One of the main reasons I picked this place and continue to like this place is its growth potential," Yee said.
Yee recalled that "it was quite controversial to open the campus in Pleasanton because the regional hospital ... on Stanley Boulevard was funded by the monthly donation of our members, so the community donated to have a hospital. So there was a lot of support from the community to this local enterprise."
"The hospital even at that time was a kind of rural suburban hospital," Yee said. "I was the first pulmonary medicine specialist to come into town and I was also the first board certified critical care medicine specialist."
Though ValleyCare did not have many specialists at the time, "there was a very good core value," according to Yee.
"It's a very caring hospital. We always feel like we take care of our friends and family in the hospital, and that core value has continued to today," Yee added.
Shumway said it's "unbelievable" to see where Stanford-ValleyCare is today compared to six decades ago, but "iIf you rewind to a shorter time frame, over the last three years, the significance of what's been done here, I don't think can be overstated."
"There was really a requirement that Stanford invest significantly into the organization as part of the agreement to allow it to become part of the health system," Shumway said. "Stanford Medicine at-large views this as a critically important part of the organization, and as such has invested tremendously" by updating infrastructure, both internally and externally.
Since merging with Stanford Health Care, Yee said that "the evolution continues … Stanford, as everybody knows, is well known for high tech, a lot of subspecialists, research, and that's what happened to ValleyCare Health System locally."
The hospital has been "through a transformation" over the last few years, Yee said. "The outside looks the same, but the inside is totally transformed –- the information infrastructure, electronic medical records, CT, MRI scans –- everything's new. There's a lot of investment into Stanford-ValleyCare and directly into the community."
"With this influx of equipment comes an influx of specialists," Yee added. "We've added a couple hundred faculty, medical staff in that time, and the services we provide have expanded broadly. The hospital has gone through this transformation from a rural, sleepy hospital, and now we're getting referrals from the outlying hospitals."
Stanford-ValleyCare has made other significant strides in recent years, including offering patients 24/7 access to stroke-trained neurologists after receiving its certification as a Primary Stroke Center in 2019. This year, Stanford-ValleyCare was the first in California to use the Barricaid annular closure device, a special implant to help prevent reherniated spinal discs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford Health Care's full array of resources was at ValleyCare's disposal.
"From a pandemic perspective, it's been nothing but inspirational to see what this organization did," Shumway said. "We expanded our capacity immensely and as part of Stanford we were able to bring COVID testing to the Tri-Valley."
Shumway added, "When you look at what the original idea was, bringing two organizations together -- that's something the community can be really proud of."
Stanford-ValleyCare was pivotal in distributing the COVID vaccine by partnering with the city of Pleasanton and Alameda County to hold drive-thru clinics at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and was one of the first places in the country to offer COVID vaccine trials, as well as test the effectiveness of remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment.
"We took a leadership role in those operations and we're proud of the community in that regard," Yee said.
As a lung and intensive care doctor, Yee was on the frontlines from the very start of the pandemic and had some unusual distinctions among his colleagues. "When COVID first hit, I was actively taking care of patients," he said. "I am in my late 60s, so according to the CDC, I'm at high risk, but as an intensive care doctor, that's what they needed at the time."
"I feel it's an obligation and honor to be able to ante up in that moment. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. We were all scared at the time, not just me," Yee added.
Before the first case of COVID was announced in the US, Yee said they had formed a command center at Stanford-ValleyCare in preparation for the virus, and that he was called back to attend a leadership meeting while attending a Chinese New Year gathering one evening due to concerns about whether Stanford-ValleyCare had its first COVID case.
"A couple major things I was very proud about Stanford-ValleyCare and the people working here, less than a week before COVID hit, we had about six isolation rooms in the whole hospital for airborne viral isolation. In a couple weeks time, we increased it to over 50," Yee said.
All of the ICU rooms were converted into air filtered, and Stanford-ValleyCare stopped doing elective surgery "because we didn't know how many beds we'd need for COVID patients."
Yee also had the unfortunate distinction of being Stanford-ValleyCare's first physician to be put in isolation after being potentially exposed during the early days of COVID.
"Stanford's famous for research. We have access to the latest and greatest diagnostics and therapeutics," Yee said. "I was sent home that night. In a month, Stanford virology was able to create a test, the PCR test that can test the DNA of the virus, and we can get (results) in the same night. So we benefit to be part of the Stanford Health System."
More benefits for the Tri-Valley are on the horizon as Stanford-ValleyCare makes plans for future expansion, according to Shumway, including investment in different properties that "will be really advantageous to patients and people in the region."
"Here in Pleasanton, we're going to continue to build and grow, but also build and grow within the region and super region at large," Shumway said. "We're going to make sure we're accessible to them and they have those options," he added regarding residents in the Tri-Valley and beyond.
Shumway added, "We're on a great pathway. We're not in a position where we were a number of years ago where the question was about how strong a foundation we were. Now we're in a strong position to accomplish things in front of us."
While physical growth is a priority, Stanford-ValleyCare is also focused on increasing services such as cardiothoracic surgery, oncology, orthopedics and neurosciences, according to Yee.
"These are the major service lines that we've been pushing to grow. We're able to do many different procedures," Yee said.
Though technology has revolutionized many ways of treating patients at Stanford-ValleyCare, Yee said one thing hasn't changed there during his four decades of practice.
"It's the heart of the people. They really care about the patient. This has never changed, even when we were small and had little resources," Yee said. "And now with Stanford, the caring attitude has not changed."