Thursday, October 19, 2017 12:00 AM

Community Regional’s Pediatric ICU turns one

For parents with children who struggle to breathe there’s a panic that sets in when they hear that tell-tale wheeze, the rattle in the chest or see their child’s lips turn blue. It feels like an elephant sitting on their own chest. Many rush to the nearest emergency room and, usually, it is the one they know best – Community Regional Medical Center. Before October 2016, doctors and nurses in the emergency room would stabilize those critically ill children who would then have to endure an ambulance ride to the nearest children’s hospital for more intensive care.  Now they ride an elevator up to Community Regional’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
September 2017 marked the very special first birthday of the hospital’s PICU. In its first 12 months, 300 children, aged 18 to infancy, were admitted into the PICU – more than half with respiratory problems. Another 10% of those small patients were admitted for seizures. The Community Regional PICU treats children facing life-threatening illnesses or trauma. 

 “This is a very exciting milestone for us,” said Donna McCloudy, Director of Pediatric Services. “Our first year serving critically ill and injured children has been successful thanks to our dedicated and talented staff and physicians.  We are especially grateful for the expertise of our partners at UCSF Fresno and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.”   

In honor of the PICU’s one year past and in celebration of its future, the PICU staff held an open-house in true birthday party fashion – served cake and punch, and sang praises of their staff, leaders and physician partners for their big hearts, top-notch service and expert care. 

“Some of the patients we saw this year were very sick with respiratory viral infections which peaks in January and February each year,” said Dr. Bunnalai, PICU Medical Director and Interim Division Director for Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. “Among the very sick included premature patients and patients with chronic lung disease and underlying asthma – which is particularly problematic during winter and summer months because it’s so dusty out there.”

The team at Community Regional cares for more than 71,000 pediatric patients a year. The subspecialists are board certified in more than 20 areas of pediatric medicine, offering patients a wealth of diagnostic and therapeutic services. But their pediatric intensivists and certified pediatric critical care nurses are specially trained to manage children with many critical conditions including respiratory conditions. And, Community Regional’s pulmonologists are able to treat patients from birth through childhood and even help manage chronic illnesses throughout their adulthood.
A new medical office building opens on the Community Regional campus this winter, providing pediatric specialty physicians with offices close to their hospitalized patients. “Currently we have more than 80 pediatricians and pediatric specialty physicians with privileges at Community, and we’ll continue to partner with UCSF to recruit as we grow our pediatric services to meet the needs of our Valley’s children,” said McCloudy.
The need for more pediatricians and pediatric specialists is great. Within a decade, the number of children in the Valley under the age of 10 will reach nearly half a million, the largest age group in a region that suffers from a shortage of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. Childhood asthma rates and associated emergency room visits are nearly twice that of the rest of the state. And in Fresno County, 10% of babies are born premature, often needing years of specialized follow-up care.

To provide more access to services, especially high-quality pediatric specialty care, Community entered into a long-term agreement with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in 2015. UCSF Benioff experts have collaborated with Community Regional to design more child-friendly treatment areas – including a separate pediatric triage area in the emergency room, pediatric intensive care rooms and the planned expansion of a pediatric unit.

The newly built pediatric intensive care unit includes private patient suites with comfortable seating, sleeping space for parents, access to the internet and TV with interactive patient care education and information for family members.

As part of Community Regional’s growth plans, a new parking structure is being completed this winter for employees – which will expand parking for the public in existing parking structures. The hospital offers free valet services near the emergency room at the Trauma Critical Care entrance on Clark Street during the week-days. Hospitals visitors have plenty of food options with a Subway sandwich shop as well as a full-service cafeteria, and Peet’s coffee in the Outtakes café and gift shop.

For families outside of the immediate area, Terry’s House – available to families for free or for a low daily rate – provides a close and convenient home-away-from-home helping families stay close to their critically sick or injured loved ones.

Learn more about Community Regional Medical Center’s PICU and Pediatric Services. 

Shannon Merritt reported this story. Reach her at