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Kaweah Health Medical Group: The Past – and Future – of Medicine in Visalia

Kaweah Health Medical Group: The Past – and Future – of Medicine in Visalia

The year was 1940, a time famous for the Dunkirk evacuation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third presidential victory, and the first appearance of Captain America in the comics. But closer to home in Visalia, it was also the year a medical partnership was formed between Dr. I.M. Lipson and his son-in-law, Dr. William S. Neal, followed shortly with the addition of Dr. J.H. Brady. Then the country and these doctors joined the fight in World War II – but came home and began the practice again.

That partnership became the Visalia Medical Clinic, and now, nearly 80 years later, Kaweah Health Medical Group (KHMG). The new name was announced in May 2021, along with the rebranding of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District becoming Kaweah Health.

The change is a new beginning for KHMG, a rebirth that takes the best of the old and makes for something even better. “We are doing this because we are creating a health system,” said Dr. Ben Brennan, a Family Medicine physician at KHMG. “We want the people in Visalia, Tulare County, and the surrounding areas to understand that we are united (with Kaweah Health).”

“We are here for a common goal: To provide the best healthcare for the people in the community.”

That’s been the goal since the start, of course, even as the staff and locations changed. In the beginning, the clinic was located on South Floral Avenue, where the Kaweah Health Medical Center is today. In fact, it’s thought that the clinic was in the exact spot where surgery is now located in the main hospital. But the clinic grew fast, and made its first move in 1957, to Meadow Avenue, right across from College of the Sequoias. Despite the new digs, that office wasn’t really big enough either, with one little, cramped office dubbed the “Dog House” for its lack of space.

So in 1971, the search was on for a new site where a new, larger clinic could be built. After a year of searching, the Hillsdale Avenue location was chosen, as land that far west was much cheaper than being in the center of town. Still, when the new site opened in 1974, a walnut orchard was across the street, and some clients complained about the location being too far away. Hard to believe today, with hotels, restaurants and the Post Office all in the vicinity!

Back then an office visit cost around $10, and patient files were physical, and often hard to locate if several doctors had the same patient. Computers came in the 1990s, making some of the long-time doctors a wee bit uncomfortable at first. Lots of other new technology such as digital x-rays (remember developing film?) have been purchased over the years, too, putting the clinic on the cutting edge of patient care and attracting the most talented physicians to the practice.

And perhaps the biggest change came just a few years ago, in 2015, when the clinic partnered with Kaweah Health to form Kaweah Health Medical Group. The partnership helps attract the highest caliber physicians, Brennan said, in part because the location offers so many services under one roof.

Dr. Bruce Hall, now the KHMG Medical Director, joined the clinic in 2000 from a practice in Lindsay because he wanted to be closer to the hospital in Visalia for his internal medicine patients. He chose KHMG because “it’s always been a top-notch organization, with great quality and patient care.” He and other leaders saw the benefits of affiliating with Kaweah Health, especially when it came to getting the latest equipment and attracting the best physicians. At the same time, Kaweah Health was looking to expand beyond in-patient care so the partnership made for a good match, he said. “And it’s been helpful in setting us on a path toward growth,” he added.

Today, the Hillsdale site has grown from 40,000 square feet to more than 100,000 square feet, and increased the number of providers from 22 physicians in the 1970s to 66 physicians and advanced practice providers today. In addition to primary care physicians, you can find specialists from allergies to urology and (almost) everything in between. Pediatrics, cardiology, orthopedics, and general surgery are just a few of the specialties available at KHMG. The group also operates two Quick Care locations at its Hillsdale Ave and Ben Maddox locations, plus a cardiology and family medicine clinic in the city of Tulare. The Hillsdale site is also a “one-stop shop” should you require a pharmacy, imaging or lab services, physical therapy, or a sleep study. The variety of services available in one convenient location creates an unmatched continuum of care for patients.

While the name change may take some time to get used to, the clinic is still providing the same great service patients expect from the medical group, Hall said. “As we grow, [the name] Visalia Medical Clinic doesn’t carry much weight in Hanford or Kingsburg. But Kaweah Health, that’s not so city-centric,” he explained.

And growth is the goal, Hall said. They would like to hire physicians in specialties they don’t yet have, and perhaps even expand to more offices. “We don’t want to have to send people out of the area for care,” he said.

For the most part, that’s true already. “You no longer have to leave Visalia to get the best medical care that you need,” Brennan said. “Being able to see your primary care provider, who you trust, who knows and cares for you, who can order labs and imaging here in the same place, all in the same day – that’s amazing. That’s what we want.”

“We’re creating the best health care you can get in one place. That’s the future of medicine,” Brennan said.