Healdsburg hospital reopens after long closure since Kincade fire

Kathy Napolitan found herself in an unusual position for an emergency room nurse, occasionally calling ambulances to transport people away from Healdsburg District Hospital during its nearly monthlong closure.

The California Department of Public Health allowed the hospital to reopen Wednesday following a 24-day shutdown that began Oct. 26 when the Kincade fire prompted mandatory evacuation orders for much of Sonoma County.

The Healdsburg hospital was one of three medical centers countywide that closed during the wildfire, joining Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. While those larger Santa Rosa medical centers reopened in a few days after the fire risks passed, the smaller Healdsburg hospital’s leaner staff prolonged its efforts to resume full operations, officials said.

“We all wanted it to be faster, and I think our community did, too, because man they are so happy to see us,” Napolitan said.

Healdsburg hospital had evacuated 22 patients to the North Bay Medical Center Fairfield within an hour after staff members received word that a mandatory evacuation order from county officials was imminent, CEO Joe Harrington said Friday. Most have slowly made their way back this week.

Since the hospital was not going to be operational during the fire evacuation, hospital officials opted to turn off the generator and leave the Healdsburg campus in the dark. By that time, PG&E had turned off the electricity across the region as a tactic to try to prevent more fires, and so Healdsburg hospital went three days without power.

As a result, temperature controls were inactive, and that meant most of the hospital’s medicines and supplies were compromised, practice manager Heather Balitzkat said. Photographs hanging in the primary care break room at the hospital show the reality of those losses, depicting hallways lined with trash bags that were stuffed full of waste.

A cleaning company and a skeleton crew of the hospital’s 350 employees worked tirelessly to wipe every surface of the 50,000-square-foot medical center. Harrington said they had to bring in additional workers so they could meet the state’s stringent standards for equipment testing and quality control in a timely manner in order to get regulatory clearance to reopen.

Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa provided 11 of its staff members to guide Healdsburg hospital’s leadership through the rigors of reopening a medical center that never had been closed before in its 57-year history. It was an unexpected collaboration that Healdsburg officials said heartened them to the camaraderie within the Sonoma County health care community.

“The small town hospital idea is more valuable than we tend to think,” said Brian Seekins, director of plant operations. “For me, I wouldn’t have thought Kaiser puts much thought into a facility like us. It’s during times like this, you’re like, ‘Wow, they’re leveraging their own resources to help us.’?”

In the temporary absence of Healdsburg hospital, patients from Windsor, Geyserville, Cloverdale and Healdsburg were forced to travel south to receive care.

The resulting revenue loss for the small community hospital was over $3 ?million, Harrington said. That does not include the cost for replacing medical supplies and equipment, which he said is still being tallied.

Employees also had to overcome the financial effect of so much time away from work. Kristina Holloway, the hospital’s chief human resources officer, said the hospital covered a week of pay before employees had to either use vacation hours or seek expedited state unemployment assistance.

Employees without enough vacation hours to cover their missed workdays were scheduled to help with the cleanup and to work the first shifts after the hospital reopened this week, Holloway said.

With the disaster-forced shutdown behind them, Healdsburg hospital workers on Friday appeared to be happy to be back on the job - even with the increased patient volume.

“There’s lots of hugging and smiles,” emergency room nurse Heidi Brunsmann said. “We’re all happy to be here.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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