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Affection for Simi Valley Brings About a Famous Name for SVH Breast Center

In 1994, the Aspen Center’s lead CT tech. Monica Berlin, (who today is SVH’s director of diagnostic imaging) was chosen to be Nancy Reagan’s hospital liaison and personal escort during the Nancy Reagan Breast Center dedication.

The most widely recognized name associated with Simi Valley Hospital is that of former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose name graces the hospital’s breast center. But until July 1994, the facility was known simply as Aspen Breast Center. The story of how that change took place is an interesting nugget of SVH history.

A Plan Emerges

Fred Gaschen, the administrator of the Aspen Center in the early 1990s, was grappling with a marketing challenge. SVH was the only facility in Ventura County with a stereotactic breast biopsy machine, and Gaschen was looking for a way to draw patients toward this exciting, life-saving technology.

One morning as he read a newspaper article about the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, Gaschen hit upon the perfect solution for his challenge to draw attention to the Aspen Breast Center. It was widely known that the Reagans were fond of the city of Simi Valley and the beautiful land surrounding the city; it was, in fact, their rationale for choosing Simi Valley as the site of the Reagan Library.

Gaschen put a call into Nancy Reagan’s staff, and after many meetings between hospital executives and people who managed the Reagans’ interests, the commitment to the name change was set. As a breast cancer survivor herself, Nancy Reagan was more than happy to lend her name to the center.

The Guest of Honor Arrives

July 7, 1994, was an exciting day at SVH. Nancy Reagan had enthusiastically embraced the hospital’s request to rename the Aspen Breast Center in her honor, and the day had come for the formal dedication.

Monica Berlin, who today is SVH’s director of diagnostic imaging, was then the Aspen Center’s lead CT tech. She was chosen to be Nancy Reagan’s hospital liaison and personal escort for the event.

Dressed in an outfit she purchased specifically for this auspicious occasion, Berlin greeted Reagan as she was escorted by the Secret Service up a back stairway and into a second-floor room, which is now the Aspen Center’s education room.

Local VIPs were also on hand to greet the former first lady, as were hospital leadership, including hospital president and CEO Alan Rice, Gaschen, and Jolynn Nelson, the technical director of the soon-to-be-named Nancy Reagan Breast Center.

After refreshments and photos, Nelson, Berlin and others took Reagan on a private tour of the newly redecorated breast center. Berlin remembered being particularly struck by Reagan’s interest in the decorating details of the center.

“She was interested in everything we had done and how we had set things up,” Berlin said. “She made particular comments about the lace curtains, the pink comforters that were on the procedure tables, the silk flowers and other feminine touches, which she thought made the breast center so much warmer. She was just so pleased by what she saw there.”

Among the staff of the breast center at that time was Sandra Biety, who was then a staff mammography tech, but is now the center’s lead mammography tech.

Making it Official

After the tour, the group went to the front parking lot of the Aspen Center, where a large tent was set up to accommodate 200 guests and speakers at the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Nancy Reagan spoke during the event, relating her experiences as a breast cancer survivor and giving her blessing to the center. She also presented the hospital with a signed plaque, which still hangs in the Aspen Center, urging women to get regular breast health exams.

Although Nancy Reagan has not returned to SVH since the day of the dedication, Berlin said that she still has a strong sense of the former first lady’s support for the hospital’s efforts to help women prevent and treat breast cancer, and her legacy will live on in the years ahead.