‘Gratitude’ on Thanksgiving – and all year long

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘Gratitude’ on Thanksgiving – and all year longJessica Constable and her husband Geoffrey with their children (from left) Addison, Jaxon and Alayna. — Photo by Laura Austin


As the community enters into the season for counting blessings, one asset that works hard all year to provide service to our remote valley is the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.

The massive expansion of care options and services in our area has bucked the trend of other rural health centers that have shrunk (or closed) around the state as institutions weather increasing mandates, shifting revenue models and other reforms. While many credit that to dedicated leadership, a key component consists of those who choose to give back through the RRH Development Foundation.

According to Foundation Director Kim Metcalf, the organization adopted “Gratitude Changes Everything” as the guiding principle of its philanthropic efforts. While hospital employees focus on delivering quality care, she focuses on celebrating the successes of the hospital and gathering community support to continue those successes.

“We have so many stories about how the hospital has served our local population,” said Metcalf. These testimonies bridge the spectrum of the beginning and ending phases of life, as well as all the trials in between.

Jessica Constable, who has been employed a speech pathologist at RRH since 2017, is one of many who have experienced both the giving and receiving end of the care at our hospital.

Before she began working there, she delivered her daughter Alayna (now age 5) and son Jaxon (now 3) at RRH.

“As a patient, I have always received great service. With my first two children, and after I was in an accident, I saw that the nurses and other staff were very dedicated and compassionate,” she said.

Five weeks ago she and her husband Geoffrey welcomed their third child, Addison, into the world. “It was almost like a family experience,” she said.

“There were so many familiar faces to make me feel comfortable, but it was also helpful that this time around I had a better understanding of what everyone was doing and why.”

Jessica said that she loves being on the other side of that care, too. “I love everything about my job, but what really excites me is being able to help people, see them improve in their functions and know that I’m making a difference in my community.

“Even though our hospital has expanded in its services, I think we still have that small-town feel. You get to know your patients, which helps give you a better understanding of how to care for them and find what they need. It’s important to stay professional and respect people’s privacy, but you never stop caring.”

Jessica said that she has been happy to see how RRH continued to add services — from rural health to mental health to cancer treatment.

While cancer treatment is something most wish they will never need, Fred Byrd said that if you’re in that situation, “Having a local treatment center can make all the difference in the world.”

Fred moved to Trona 20 years ago to be close to his father, who was in poor health at that time. His father passed away, but Fred and his wife Karen stayed — even after he retired as a drilling and blasting specialist for public works projects.

A little over a year ago, Fred had a stroke. “I quit smoking and drinking, and I thought I would be OK. But when I thought I was recovering from my stroke, I started getting weaker.”

He was referred to Dr. Everard Hughes, medical oncology and hematology specialist at RRH’s new cancer center. About a week after his testing, Fred received the news that he had bone marrow cancer. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ I just didn’t believe it.”

He started making regular trips to UCLA for chemo.

“Going all the way to Los Angeles to take care of things is a nightmare. This is so good, having a local clinic for cancer treatment, I can’t tell you how appreciative I am. They have excellent nurses, a good doctor — just great care overall. And traveling 20 miles instead of making an overnight trip is just so much easier.”

Although he said he could immediately feel the positive impact from chemotherapy, he discovered other health problems, including weak lungs and the need for bypass surgery.

Little by little, though, his health has been improving. He has regained the weight he lost during treatment, has undergone a triple bypass and is undergoing a final round of tests to see if he qualifies for the bone marrow transplant he needs.

“I should find out Nov. 28,” he said. “But so far, I have a very positive feeling about it.”

(Fred promised to update the News Review as his healthcare journey develops.)

Mike Gonzales — sibling of 13, veteran of two wars, widower of three women who lost their battles with cancer — found a home at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital through the “Journey to Happiness” program.

Darrell Price and Dr. Megan Stone put together a program that addresses the medical and lifestyle considerations that encourage senior citizens to embrace wellness on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level.

Through the program Mike met Maria. The pair hit it off as companions, but Mike soon realized that Maria was ill and had inadequate insurance to cover the costs of her care. She, in turn, saw that Mike was in need of companionship and care. So in 2015 the two decided to get married.

At age 84, Mike jokingly referred to his 64-year-old wife as his “child bride.”

Maria’s health worsened, and she eventually chose to spend the remaining time she had in Hospice — a healthcare option that focuses on improving the quality of life rather than extending time (which can potentially erode that quality) through invasive medicine.

“I was very impressed with the way the Hospice staff handled themselves,” said Mike. “Overall, I had a really positive experience.

“I think this is a great option to have. It gives people a peaceful, dignified end of life.”

Maria passed away in 2016.

And Mike turned once again to RRH to find the support he needed to enter the next phase of his life.

“I am still a part of the Journey to Happiness program. One day someone came up and hugged me. I turned around to see who it was, and it was my neighbor! After my third wife passed away, she would come by every Christmas and bring me a care package.

“These are the kind of people you meet there. I can’t imagine my life without Journey to Happiness.”

Metcalf noted that Hospice is the current focus of the foundation’s fund-raising efforts. RRH is endeavoring to raise the $300,000 necessary to purchase a Hospice House — and is about two-thirds of the way to the goal.

“I’ve set up a way people can contribute that will get us the rest of the way to our goal,” she said. Residents can make one-time or continuing contributions that will help with initial and ongoing costs of the Hospice House.

To find out how to make a donation, call 760-499-3955.

Story First Published: 2018-11-21