In his 40 years as a hospital leader, Mike Purvis has never witnessed the forced evacuation of a major hospital, let alone two.
But that’s exactly what happened when the worst firestorm in Santa Rosa history tore through the northern end of the city, forcing not only the closure of both Sutter Health and Kaiser Permanente hospitals, but also shuttering local clinics, skilled nursing facilities and medical offices.
“This is so exceptionally unusual — this is a once-in-a-hundred-years event,” said Purvis, CEO of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.
Purvis’ home was among the hundreds of homes destroyed in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood, many of them belonging to hospital executives, physicians, nurses and other medical staff. Todd Salnas, who oversees Memorial Hospital as president of St. Joseph Health Sonoma County, and Judy Coffey, area manager for Kaiser’s operations in Sonoma and Marin counties, also lost their homes in the fires. Up to 100 members of Kaiser’s staff lost homes in the fires, a spokesman said.
All hands on deck
While the disaster has turned Santa Rosa’s health care sector on its head, the people who work in it are doing everything they can to get things back on track.
Sutter will not reopen until the middle of next week, at the earliest, while Kaiser has not announced how long its hospital will be closed. In the meantime, the staff at both hospitals have begun working at other facilities to keep local health care services available.
Many Sutter nurses and care providers are working at the Elsie Allen High School shelter. Young physicians-in-training who were displaced by the closure of the Vista Family Health Center in Fountaingrove are helping out at Sonoma West Medical Center and Sutter Health’s hospital in Novato, which received a number of local Sutter hospital patients. Sutter Santa Rosa is also sending food from the hospital kitchen over to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, which also received Sutter patients before flames surrounded its River Road facility.
Tyler Hedden, chief operating officer for Providence St. Joseph Sonoma County, which operates Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital, was the administrator on call early Monday morning and had no idea the disaster would be of such magnitude.
“We just knew there was some concerns about utilities and we knew there were fires in some areas,” he said.
Kaiser would evacuate 130 patients on Monday, sending many to its San Rafael hospital, while Sutter transferred more than 80 patients to other facilities. Patients requiring medical support were taken to other facilities by ambulance. Some noncritically ill patients were transported on private buses.
That night, Memorial took six patients from Kaiser and six from Sutter. Four of the Sutter patients were babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and two were women in the labor and delivery unit, said Vanessa DeGier, a Providence St. Joseph spokeswoman. DeGier didn’t have details about the Kaiser patients.
Sonoma West Medical Center in Sebastopol admitted 21 patients to its medical, surgical and intensive care units, said Dennis Colthurst, president of the board of directors of the Palm Drive Health Care District, which oversees the medical center.
Forty people triaged at the Sebastopol hospital’s emergency room throughout Monday and one was transferred to a burn center in San Francisco, he said. There are currently 22 Sutter patients on the floor and two in the ICU. Colthurst said the disaster brought out the best of that small rural hospital’s staff.