INDIO — With a standing-room-only crowd of at least 400 people to bear witness, Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital officially expanded – and cemented – its footprint into the Coachella Valley

“It does my heart good to see that we  be a little short of chairs,” said Kerry Heinrich, chief executive officer of Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital is the sole children’s hospital for almost 1.3 million of California’s youth in San Bernardino, Riverside, Inyo, and Mono Counties, according to Heinrich.

With more than 275 beds just for children, the American Board of Surgeons has designated the Children’s Hospital as a Level 1 Trauma Center, providing the highest level of trauma care within the Inland Empire four-county area. Each year, more than 15,000 children stay at the hospital and over 130,000 children visit the hospital for ambulatory care. The only medical facility in the Inland Empire specializing in the care of children, Children’s Hospital transports over 1,100 critically ill or injured children each year from surrounding hospitals.

“What a day,” said Dr. Richard Hart, president of Loma Linda Health.

It was a day of great fanfare, praise and superlatives. It was a day for praising God — and many did.

Indio Mayor Michael H. Wilson said it was an honor to welcome Loma Linda University Children’s Health to Old Town Indio. He said it was a “monumental day,” adding that, “We are only beginning.”

Indio Mayor Michael Wilson

Indio Mayor Michael Wilson

“The choice of Loma Linda to choose the city of Indio is a confirmation of the confidence that has grown by many that the city of Indio has arrived as a world-class destination,” Wilson told Uken Report. “The City Council and city staff have worked hard to create a vision for Indio that prominent businesses, employers, retailers, and the like would choose Indio as a place to be and locate here to provide jobs, wages, and services for our residents.”

This grand opening shows that Indio has been successful with its vision for Indio’s future, Wilson added.

“Many Indio residents, as well as Coachella Valley residents, have spent hours driving and staying in Redlands to meet the medical needs of their children,” Wilson said. “There are many in the Coachella Valley that need these services yet don’t have transportation or the means to travel and stay in Redlands to obtain medical services. For those residents, this opening of Loma Linda University Children’s Health – Indio will change their lives and afford them the opportunity to have first-class treatment and a first-class facility in the Coachella Valley. This is an exciting day and a long time coming. The city of Indio is the place to be.”

The 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony was held one day before Loma Linda University Children’s Health – Indio opens its doors at 82-934 Civic Center Drive. Some 130,000 live in the Coachella Valley region, Heinrich said. About 18,000 seek treatment at Loma Linda’s main campus, which is located 70 miles west.

Much of that care is now just minutes away in families’ back yard, closer to home saving families the stress of travel, time away from work, lodging expenses and transportation costs.

Many of the parents are working class former Mayor Elaine Holmes had told Uken Report while the facility was under construction. Often they will have to miss work if their child is sent to Loma Linda. It takes a financial toll, Holmes said. Transportation can also be a hardship, to say nothing of being separated from your child.

“My heart just breaks for some of these families,” Holmes said. “We want our kids to have every chance to live a full and productive life. To me, it’s the most wonderful thing to happen in Indio. It is a privilege and a blessing.”

Among those attending the ribbon-cutting were Democratic Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz and Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez. Four members of the Indio City Council were also there, including Wilson, Holmes, Troy Strange and Glenn Miller.

Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz

Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz

Ruiz, who said he grew up in a trailer in the East Valley with parents who were farmworkers, said could empathize with the need.

“This a prayer answered … this is a collective prayer answered for all those parents who fear for their children’s lives.”

Ruiz, an emergency room doctor, said, “I want you to know I am a partner on this journey.”

The congressman then encouraged attendees to go into the community to spread the good news, “The pediatricians are coming. The pediatricians are coming.”

Dr. Richard Chinnock, chief medical officer for Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, predicted that the Indio Clinic will see double — -that would be 36,000 children – what Loma Linda is currently seeing at its main campus.

“This is a medical home where you bring children,” Chinnock said. “(It’s) not just a place to get a shot.”

In the future, dentistry services and telemedicine services will be available, he said.

“My heart is full,” Chinnock said.

Barry and Jill Golden

Barry and Jill Golden

Special recognition was afforded Barry and Jill Golden and Frank and Mary Ann Xavier, benefactors. The pavilion bears the name Jill and Barry Golden Pavilion.

“I can’t get the smile off my face,” said Barry Golden who became emotional while speaking. “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives … this is our gift.”

Ground was broken for the clinic on Nov. 1, 2016.

Dr. Peter Vaccaro, a pediatrics specialist, begins seeing patients on Monday. The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday. Walk-ins are taken on Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. To book an appointment, call 760-477-0733.

A second physician, Dr. Nahala Farghalli,  will be joining him this summer.