Downey Doings: Rancho opens new hospital wing

Lars Clutterham and Carol Kearns. Photo by Lorine Parks

Lars Clutterham and Carol Kearns. Photo by Lorine Parks

DOWNEY -- A lightly and brightly dressed crowd attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the new Jacquelin Perry Wing at Downey’s Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center last week.

Sunshine and a light breeze made a perfect California morning and a String Quartet from the Downey Symphony played baroque airs as the crowd settled under the big white tent marked by blue and white balloons. Downey Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Rodriguez welcomed everyone and then County Supervisor Janice Hahn praised the City Downey for working with the county to make this “life-changing elegant building” possible.

“We’ve got the best care in the world right here,” she said.

Also greeting the throng were Aires Limbaga, Rancho’s new executive director, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Set within the ring of Downey’s encircling freeways lies this sparkling gem, Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center.

A world within a world, Rancho’s reputation radiates worldwide. One special name is Dr. Jacquelin Perry, famed for her contributions to the biometrics of locomotion.

The ribbon cutting marked the opening of a new glass and limestone building with its lacy metallic screen façade, the extension of the Institute that bears her name. This new wing now brings all inpatients under one convenient roof.

Who is the woman who helped put Rancho on the map? Dr. Perry first trained as an orthopedic surgeon, and was one of the first 10 women to be certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. She did spinal fusion and tendon transfer surgery, and then later began her pioneer work in gait-research in stroke victims, followed by post-polio patients, spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy victims.

By careful measured observations Dr. Perry was able to break down human gait into eight motion patters in 28 major muscles in each leg, with the goal of restoring mobility to her patients.

“She was always curious, and she was a problem solver,” said Joanne Gronley, a Rancho research kinesthesiologist and also a board member of the Downey Symphonic Society.

Dr. Perry resided in Downey till she died in 2013 at age 94, and was a longtime enthusiastic patron of the Symphonic Society as well as a Platinum donor to the Rancho Foundation. So it is appropriate that the Symphonic Society is dedicating its April 2019 “Gershwin!” concert at the Downey Theatre to her memory.

Wheelchairs zipped among the pedestrians and scooted around attendees with canes and walkers and the campus with its blue and white balloons looked like “the happiest place on earth.” Green scrub suits alternated with long white “doctor coats” and the jackets of therapists, as staff and patients mingled with Downey fans of Rancho, and there were many, representing many local service organizations.

For example, present were Beverly and Sam Mathis, he an Optimist Club member who is on the Board of the Rancho Foundation, a charitable organization that raises millions for special patient projects. Paul Mathis and Jesse Vargas, both Downey Rotarians, are co-treasurers of the Foundation.

Bev is in charge of the Assistance League of Downey’s apartment buildings on campus for visiting families, and where patients can try their first night away from a hospital bed. Bev is also a longtime Soropotimist.

Being in a chair doesn’t mean you can’t be high fashion: spotted were a gent in suit and tie and fancy leather shoes, and a lady in high-heeled black suede boots, a jaunty tweed pork-pie hat and dangling earrings.

This is one place where those in a chair do not stand out as different from the general population: here they are at home and the pride of the medical teams. This is a place of caring and healing, which services more than 80,000 outpatient visits a year for people with life-changing illness, injury or disability.

The new wing is an inpatient facility which consolidates all hospital beds into one structure and incorporates advanced technology. The main Jacqueline Perry Institute (JPI) facility currently cares for approximately 4,000 patients annually.

The wing is so new it still smells like a new car. The shelves in the gift shop have yet to be stocked, the warming dishes in the cafeteria yet to be filled. But a therapy garden has already been planted, for its soothing effect on patients and their families. Space is set aside for them to cultivate flowers and vegetables or simply rest and meditate. Art in Rancho has a place here too.

The new JPI facilities are a cornerstone in “Rancho Rising 2020” and Downey’s own redevelopment plans. Of vital interest to Downey are the plans for redevelopment of 15 acres of Rancho’s vast campus for a park with soccer fields.

The hospital facilities are only part of the magnificent 138-year Rancho History. There is the Don Knabe Wellness Center, a state of the art work-out and physical training facility dedicated in 2016, which features a full gym, swimming pool, underwater treadmills and other rehabilitation tools.

Now that polio has been almost completely eradicated from the earth, the hospital specializes in brain, neurological, orthopedic, pediatric, spinal injury and stroke rehabilitation. Once the County Poor Farm, Rancho today continues its “tradition of innovation.”

NewsLorine Parks