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Memorial Hospital’s Lauren Small Children’s Center: Growing to meet the healthcare needs of Kern County kids

Babies, toddlers, children and teens all have different healthcare needs, and these change rapidly as they grow. That’s why in 2012, the Lauren Small Children’s Center at Dignity Health - Memorial Hospital was created: to address the unique requirements of young patients.

The Lauren Small Children’s Center is the first and only hospital-based comprehensive pediatric program in the Bakersfield area. Previously, children with serious illnesses and injuries had to be driven or flown long distances to get the specialty care they needed—a difficult and stressful situation for young patients and their families. More than a decade after opening, the ever-expanding Lauren Small Children's Center continues to offer advanced pediatric care here at home.

And it was inspired by the courage of a little girl who tragically lost her battle with cancer.

In 2003, the Small family faced hardship when their beloved daughter, Lauren, was diagnosed with cancer. During Lauren’s two-year battle, the Small family traveled long distances to get her the treatment and care she needed. Lauren’s parents, Kevin and Tuesdy Small, recognized they were not alone in this struggle; other local families were making the same difficult decisions and sacrifices in order for their children to receive care that wasn’t available in Kern County. 

Though she fought bravely, Lauren passed away in 2005 at the age of eleven. After her passing, the Small family honored her life by partnering with Memorial Hospital to expand pediatric services in Kern County. 

In 2012, the Small family donated $2 million to establish the Lauren Small Children’s Center with the commitment from Dignity Health to grow into a state of the art destination for children. 

“This transformational gift changed pediatric healthcare in Bakersfield and remains the largest donation in Memorial’s history,” said Ken Keller, President and CEO of Memorial Hospital. 

“We are forever grateful to the Small family for their generosity and vision for advancing children’s care in Kern County.” 

While Lauren’s life inspired the development of the Children’s Center, her legacy continues to grow with the contributions of many generous donors dedicated to bringing new medical services and treatment options to local families.

What started as a small unit with only a few beds, today is a comprehensive pediatrics program fully approved by California Children's Services. The Lauren Small Children’s Center includes a 31-bed level II neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for premature or seriously ill newborns; an eight-bed pediatric intensive care unit (PICU); and a 35-bed pediatric acute care unit with around-the-clock, in-house pediatricians, known as hospitalists. In 2017, The Robert A. Grimm Children's Pavilion for Emergency Services opened as the area’s only dedicated pediatric emergency department between Los Angeles and Madera. Memorial Hospital is also home to the S.A. Camp Companies Burn Unit at the Grossman Burn Center, which provides dedicated burn care to our youngest patients on both an inpatient and outpatient basis.

The capstone of the Children’s Center is a new Pediatric Surgical Suites Project, expected to open in the winter of 2025. The Small family, along with other donors including, The Wright Family Foundation, community organizations, and local residents, have contributed $2.6 million to make this state-of-the-art surgical unit a reality.

The Pediatric Surgical Suites Project will include: 

  • Two dedicated pediatric surgical suites 
  • 5,000-square-foot expansion of the current Lauren Small Children’s Center
  • Pediatric pre-and post-anesthesia care unit
  • Dedicated surgical support spaces, including a nurses station, equipment storage space, and environmental services space
  • Recruitment of two resident pediatric surgeons and additional medical and administrative support staff 

Catherine Harker, Nursing Director of Pediatric Services at Memorial Hospital, notes the significant impact this project will have in our community, ensuring families have access to leading-edge technology designed especially for young patients and specially-trained surgeons.

“Our ultimate goal is to advance pediatric care as a whole in Kern County,” she said. “Allowing our pediatric patients to receive much needed surgical procedures will help us close the gap in children’s health care services.” 

As president of Memorial Hospital, Keller also couldn’t be prouder of what has been accomplished through the community’s support in a short period of time. “The Lauren Small Children’s Center serves as a reminder that when we invest in the health of our youth, we can build a healthier future for our community as a whole. As a community, we can come together to help fill the gap in children’s health care services in the Central Valley.”