Fountaingrove’s Vista clinic returns two years after Tubbs fire
Demolition crews last summer had stripped Santa Rosa Community Health's Vista Campus down to its metal frame and concrete floors, eliminating even the slightest hint or smell of smoke, mold and ash.
The cold, lifeless skeletal frame of this once bustling Fountaingrove clinic was a reminder of everything that was lost in the 2017 Tubbs fire, and the depths of its scars.
'It was such an empty shell. I can't describe it — It's like the building's soul was gone,' said Randy Fincher, facilities manager for Santa Rosa Community Health.
The tempest of flames that swept over Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood didn't bring down the 40,000-square-foot health center, though it might as well have.
The Tubbs fire torched a nearby play structure that, in turn, flung flames and embers onto the clinic's roof, destroying it, according to health center officials. That triggered the building's sprinkler system, which then flooded the entire two-story medical complex on Round Barn Circle. Water, mold and smoke damage rendered the site useless.
However, after months of redesign, reconstruction and remodeling work that cost a total of $19 million, the clinic is scheduled to reopen its doors to patients Monday for the first time since the fires.
When the clinic originally opened in 2010, it cost $9 million to remodel and equip the building after Santa Rosa Community Health purchased it for $4 million.
The health center had to do similar interior work after it was flooded, as well as replace the building's roof, windows, elevator and exterior walls. All of this was done at a time when construction costs continue to climb because of high demand and labor and materials shortages, health center officials said.
In preparation for the clinic's reopening, 160 employees last week went through an extensive orientation in the new facility, much of which has been redesigned to facilitate 'team-based care,' said Gaby Bernal Leroi, Santa Rosa Community Health's chief operating officer.
Bernal Leroi, who was site director of Vista Campus before the fire, described the focus of the health center's first design as 'decompression,' a sudden expansion from the former cramped and inadequate facilities on Chanate Road.
After the Tubbs fire, Vista staff members were scattered to the agency's other health care facilities in the city, including new and temporary sites.
Those employees, who had become like a family, lost their 'home away from home,' Bernal Leroi said.
'It was a long and hard road for all of us, having to get accustomed to new spaces that were not always adequate,' she said. 'I wanted to created a building that was beautiful and functional and brought back the joy and the soul of its staff.'
Before the fire, Vista saw 300 patients a day, and 24,000 patients visited the clinic 100,000 times a year. Santa Rosa Community Health, which has several clinic sites in Santa Rosa, saw its annual patient roster fall from 44,000 before the fire to about 40,000 last year.
Since then, 2,000 patients have been added, and the agency hopes Vista's reopening will bring its patient load back to prefire levels. The agency's clinics currently have no waiting lists, Bernal Leroi said.
'If you are a new patient who is sick, we can get you in (the) same day,' she said.
The same goes for established patients, she said.
The clinic redesigned its medical 'pods,' making them more open and spacious to allow for better communication between medical staff. The pods are egg-shaped, similar to that of a communications command center.
'Some are calling it 'The Bridge,' like in 'Star Trek,' ' Bernal Leroi said.
Other changes at the Vista site included moving the pharmacy to the first floor next to the labs to improve patient flow. The lab waiting room was eliminated, and two more draw stations were put in to reduce wait times.
Unisex bathrooms also were added at the clinic, which also doubled its reception intake staff to get patients in sooner.
The clinic has 58 exam rooms and space for specialty clinics, as well as a combined space for mental health and other support services, such as HIV and health education.
Naomi Fuchs, Santa Rosa Community Health's CEO, said insurance funds covered a significant portion of the cost to rebuild the clinic, but the organization still has to raise about $2 million to close the gap.
Of the $19 million needed to reconstruct the clinic, demolition alone cost $3 million, Fuchs said.
Fincher, the facilities manager, said in the days after the fire clinic employees would call him to see if he could recover mementos, photographs, framed diplomas and certificates from desks and workstations. Those who lost homes were hoping he could salvage some piece of their past.
He said he worked long hours, like others, trying to bring the clinic back to life.
'That was a really traumatic time,' he said. 'I never got a chance to really mourn it … I'm glad now we're rebuilding, making new memories.'
Editor's note: The new Vista campus has 58 medical exam rooms. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect number of exam rooms.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or email@example.com. On Twitter @pressreno.