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The History that Makes Loma Linda University’s Work in San Bernardino Possible


On December 10, Loma Linda University Health broke ground in San Bernardino, California on a new teaching and medical services facility that will provide jobs and health care to one of the American cities hardest hit by the Great Recession. Spectrum wrote about the ground breaking here. Subsequently, Dr. Richard Hart, president of Loma Linda University Health, posted an article on the President’s Page of the LLUH website that provided the back story of Loma Linda University’s work with the San Manuel band of Serrano Indians and with the City of San Bernardino and surrounding communities. Dr. Hart’s article is shared below in its entirety to give Spectrum readers a fuller view of the story behind Loma Linda’s expansion. -Ed.


Franciscan missionary Father Dumetz “discovered” a peaceful valley in inland California in 1810, inhabited primarily by the Serrano Tribe of Indians. He named the area San Bernardino in 1852“San Bernardino,” a mission was built, and Mill Creek was redirected into irrigation channels to make agriculture blossom. When California became a Mexican territory in 1821, the “Great Spanish Rancheros” took advantage of the beautiful climate, planting citrus groves. By 1842 San Bernardino had become an important trading post known as San Bernardino Rancho on the “Spanish Trail,” visited by pioneer trailblazers Kit Carson and Jedediah Smith. The Gold Rush starting in 1848 changed everything in California, and it joined the United States as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In 1851 a group of 500 Mormon settlers seeking religious freedom purchased the former mission, built a stockade around it, and renamed it Fort San Bernardino. It officially became a city in 1854 with strict rules against alcohol and gambling. The great railway companies soon made this valley a hub, and in 1886 Santa Fe Railway established a transcontinental link to Los Angeles that opened the valley to the rest of the country.

Illustration of San Bernardino, CA, 1852. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

With its population doubling between 1900 and 1910, the valley caught the attention of the leaders of the fledging Seventh-day Adventist Church, who were seeking to establish institutions in Southern California. In 1901, Ellen White had a vision of a facility with graceful pepper trees providing shade to patients, and buildings ideally suited for a sanitarium. After urging John Burden to obtain the place, she first visited Loma Linda on June 12, 1905, recalling it as the “very place” she had seen in vision. The bankrupt resort was successfully purchased through a series of miracles, and a hospital and school were established later that year.

By 1907, Dr. Julia White, Lyra Georgeone of our first faculty and the founder of the School of Nursing, was recorded as giving health lectures to the San Bernardino school district, with 2,500 attending. This connection with the community grew rapidly, assisted by the growing number of students and faculty at Loma Linda who reached out to the surrounding villages in various ways. When Dr. Lyra George, an obstetrician, joined the faculty, she was soon called upon to deliver babies throughout the valley, traveling to their homes by horseback, including the adobe homes of Serrano Indians. Many baby girls were also given the name Lyra, following the tradition of naming babies after the first person they saw. 

Group of College of Medical Evangelists workers, ca. 1930. Dr. Lyra George, front, 3rd from left.

As the years passed, the College of Medical Evangelists, later Loma Linda University, grew to include a variety of schools and programs. Faculty, staff and students continued to relate to the community, including two branches of Serrano Indians, called the San Manuel and Morongo bands of Mission Indians. Some of the Indian children who now lead those bands attended branch Sabbath Schools conducted by Loma Linda staff.

In the late 1960s, students from Loma Linda University decided to start an evening clinic for the migrant farm workers and hippies who were coming to California. With the assistance of Loma Linda University Church, they established what they called the Social Action Corps, or SAC clinics, holding free clinics with faculty supervision several evenings a week, together with SAC Norton clinicsmoking cessation programs and other educational initiatives. These clinics gradually grew to include several different sites over the following 30 years until the large clinic building at the former Norton Air Force Base was deeded to Loma Linda for use as a community clinic in 1995. The clinic system is now called Social Action Community Health System (SAC Health System). In addition to caring for patients, the SAC Health System clinics have become a major site for interdisciplinary training for Loma Linda students and physicians.

SAC Norton Treatment Center, San Bernardino, California.

Now the SAC Norton facility has become too small for the growing clinical services and training activities. On December 10, we broke ground at a new San Bernardino site for a 150,000-square-foot clinical and educational center. Located on a seven-acre parcel adjacent to the 215 Freeway in downtown San Bernardino, this three-story building will be completed by the spring of 2016.

The number of patient visits — now around 35,000 each year for the SAC Health System clinics — is expected to grow to more than 100,000 annually at the new facility. It will provide a variety of primary care and specialty clinics for the community, including dental and mental health services. In partnership with Inland Empire Health Plan, it will help care for the more than one million residents of the Inland Empire who are on MediCal (Medicaid), as well as the remaining uninsured in the valley and beyond.

Artist’s rendering of the San Manuel Gateway College / SAC Health Systems facility.

What will really make this new building unique is the 20 percent of its space dedicated to what we are calling the San Manuel Gateway College in honor of a $10 million gift from our old friends, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. They have frequently stated their desire to give back to Loma Linda, and the gift to develop this college will provide a unique setting for professional education. In partnership with the San Bernardino City Unified School District and its Adult School, the college will provide a variety of certificate-level courses, giving job-entry skills to high school graduates. There are many of these three-to-twelve-month career opportunities in health care today, such as medical assistants, dental assistants, pharmacy assistants, coders, phlebotomists, etc. This will start many of these young students on employment paths that can grow into long-term careers or provide a steppingstone to advanced degrees. The ability to obtain real jobs is one of the greatest needs in San Bernardino today.

The community has responded to these plans with great enthusiasm. As expressed at the groundbreaking by community leaders Greg Devereaux, CEO of San Bernardino County; Dale Marsden, superintendent, San Bernardino City Unified School District; Carey Davis, mayor of San Bernardino; and others, this initiative from Loma Linda University Health has given the entire city hope for the future and a belief that its difficult transition out of bankruptcy is coming to an end. Benefiting both our Loma Linda students and local high school graduates, this educational environment will enhance cross-cultural skills and understanding for both groups in an interactive and mentored setting.

You can learn more about Loma Linda University Health – San Bernardino at its website.


This article originally appeared on the website, and is reprinted here by permission.
Dr. Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, is President of Loma Linda University Health.

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