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Forestville Wellness Center closed for repairs because of smoke damage from fire

A small fire last week at the Forestville Wellness Center, which provides health services to 3,500 West County Health Centers patients, has forced its closure for an extended period, officials for the nonprofit said.

The usual array of individual treatments and group health programs offered at the Front Street site will still be available during the closure at the Gravenstein Community Health Center in Sebastopol, officials said.

“We’ll be moving all of our services from the Forestville Wellness Center to our Sebastopol location,” said Mary Szecsey, chief executive officer of the west Sonoma County health care provider. “There’s not going to be any change in the services while we make those repairs.”

The fire occurred early Friday morning about 2 a.m. in a bathroom used as a linen closet, Forestville Fire Capt. Michael Franceschi said. It appeared to have started in a bathroom fan and luckily set off a fire alarm, alerting the local fire department, he said.

Arriving fire crews saw smoke coming out of the attic but contained the flames to the bathroom, Franceschi said. Because the door was ajar, there was significant smoke damage throughout the wellness center building.

Recovery from the smoke and other internal repairs that are needed likely will mean moving out of the building for some months, though how many is unclear, Szecsey said.

“We’re expecting it will be three months, maybe six months,” she said, though even that’s a bit of a guess.

The wellness center is a satellite hub for alternative approaches to health care offered to patients who receive their primary care from one of three health clinics in Occidental, Guerneville or Sebastopol, she said.

About 50 patients daily were seen at the wellness center before the fire, said Jennifer Neeley, associate director of development for West County Health Centers.

Patients go there for everything from herbal medicine consultations to acupuncture treatments, stress reduction practice to smoking cessation groups, nutrition training to pain management.

Much of the treatments address lifestyle change and chronic disease, empowering patients to take control of their own health, Neeley said.

“Most of our patients,” Szecsey said, “are low income, are Medi-Cal, and they wouldn’t generally have access to these kinds of services because of the financial barriers, so that’s one of the reasons why we created this model and the site, so that we’d be able to offer these types of services to patients.”

The Forestville incident is reminiscent of an arson fire that destroyed the nonprofit’s Russian River Health Center in Guerneville in December 2015. But they’re not comparable, Szecsey said.

“It was a very small fire,” she said. “We’re disappointed. We have suffered another setback here, but we’re just moving ahead, and we don’t expect any interruption to services.”

The organization is building a bigger, better replacement health center for the one it lost and is operating out of temporary digs in Guerneville, in the meantime.

Until further notice, wellness center services normally dispensed in Forestville will be available at the Gravenstein Community Health Center in Sebastopol, 652 Petaluma Ave., Suite H.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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