The 1970s ushered in a period of severe recession and inflation, ending an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity for Orange County. Housing costs increased as defense spending declined, and many firms—Hughes, McDonnell-Douglas, Northrop—laid off workers and cut back production.
By the mid-1970s, unchecked growth and immigration had became major issues. Tensions grew as illegal immigrants poured across the border seeking jobs and a better life. They joined a growing Hispanic population, one of the largest and oldest minorities in Orange County.
The federal government, opening its doors to Vietnam War refugees, designated the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Pendleton as a relocation center. Thousands of refugees went no further than Orange County, settling in Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, and Westminster. Many immigrants started their own businesses, developing small communities within larger ones. Others found employment only as low-income laborers and were forced to live in cramped housing. The Indochinese population in Orange County soon grew to 87,000, still the highest concentration of this ethnic group in America.
The highlight of the decade was 1976—the year of the American Bicentennial and the 200th anniversary of settlement in Orange County—which brought a dramatic increase in interest in the County and its history. Residents researched their genealogy, raised funds to restore decaying historic structures, and renewed interest in the contributions that ethnic groups had made to the County and their communities. Thousands lined up to see the Freedom Train as it rolled into Anaheim and San Juan Capistrano with its extensive collection of Americana memorabilia.
Despite the early warning signs of the recession to come, CHOC started the decade with optimism. A State Regional Mental Retardation Center opened on March 2, 1970. Two years later, the Neonatal Transport Team was established, and by 1981, the Team was transporting more critically ill infants and children than any other hospital in California. That same year, CHOC also began a school program in conjunction with the Orange Unified School District. This full inpatient school program allowed children to keep up with their studies while hospitalized.
In 1974, Harold (Hal) W. Wade took over as CHOC President and instituted a much needed program of fiscal conservatism that was to have far-reaching consequences over the next two decades. In reviewing CHOC’s financial records, Wade found a hospital that owned none of its buildings and was heavily in debt. He immediately instituted a private practice plan for hospital-based physicians known as the Subspecialty Medical Group (SMG).
On June 12, 1975, Wade and the Board of Directors purchased CHOC Tower, a five-story structure across the street from the original Children’s Hospital. A capital fund drive was started to secure funds to renovate and convert this building into a true pediatric hospital, including the purchase of equipment and the expansion of ancillary services. Between 1977 and 1979, CHOC moved into the fourth and fifth floors, and in 1979, new Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units, with state-of-the-art diagnostic and monitoring equipment, opened. The additional 48 beds, the first real beds owned by the hospital, and the purchase of the Tower gave CHOC its first fiscal independence.
While CHOC originally intended to move into all of the Tower floors, architectural studies of the building conversion showed that the floor-to-ceiling height was insufficient to accommodate the space-consuming electrical and mechanical systems required by the state. Consultants determined that it would be too costly to convert the building. This discovery, while disappointing, triggered ambitious new building projects that were to change the face of CHOC forever in the decades to come.
While funds were being raised for CHOC Tower renovations, another area—CHOC’s Children’s Garden—was opened to ill children and their families. First suggested by patient Bobby Coffin, who would often gaze out his hospital window and wish he could play outside with the birds and flowers, this quiet area was dedicated on April 9, 1976. The garden’s flower beds, arbor, benches, and barbeque helped make hospitalization a little bit more pleasant for sick and injured children.
The decade closed with the founding of Padrinos, a men’s group dedicated to maintaining CHOC’s excellent pediatric care. Established on March 21, 1979, the group’s membership climbed from 22 to 225 by the end of the first year. While the Padrinos—Spanish for “godfathers”—began as a men’s support group, the organization voted in 1992 to open its membership to women. Over the years this active group has helped CHOC patients in many ways. Today, the Padrinos plan fundraising events each year, including an annual charity golf classic, tennis festival, Academy Awards party, a bicycle event known as Tour De Choc, a Heroes of the Heart banquet and auction, and the CHOC/Disneyland Resort Walk, the hospital’s largest fundraising event begun in 1991. The Padrinos also sponsor the annual Neonatal Intensive Care Reunion and National Cancer Survivor’s Day events.