Major services at Sutter North Bay Health Plaza resume following Tubbs fire damage

It is considered the “mother ship” for hundreds of Sutter Health-affiliated doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other staff in Sonoma County, a key outpatient facility used by more than 190,000 patients a year and providing a dizzying array of medical services from birth to death.

That was before the Tubbs fire torched oak and redwood trees that surround the three-story building, lapped at its brick walls and blew out or damaged 262 windows, forcing its closure until just recently.

On Tuesday, patients and their providers walked in and out of the medical office building at 3883 Airway Drive where, for the most part, few signs of the disastrous fire remained. Carpets, windows, flooring, drop ceiling tiles, furnishings and all of the building’s medical supplies were replaced, said Erin Neal, vice president of operations for the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation.

“This building is kind of the cradle of our health care system,” Neal said. “This is a very critical place for us.”

Located on the northeast corner of fire-torn Coffey Park, the Sutter North Bay Health Plaza before the fire housed ?43 doctors in 12 physician practices and 250 medical and administrative staff. Operated by Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, the complex was home to Sutter’s only urgent care center in Sonoma County, and included advanced imaging and radiology, rheumatology, oncology, orthopedics, podiatry, endocrinology, dermatology, neurology, physical therapy and laboratory services.

When fire crossed six lanes of Highway 101, flames ignited trees and landscaping on the northeast corner of the building. The Plaza’s suites 155 and 165, home to orthopedics, podiatry and the advanced imaging call center, were the worst hit after flames destroyed multiple windows.

Chloé’s French Café, located on the north side of the building on the first floor, was destroyed by the fire. The torched carcasses of Chloé’s familiar trucks still sit in the back of the building.

Neal said the medical building “held up really well” during the fire. Key doorways inside the suites that were most affected by the fire were closed, preventing smoke and ash from penetrating farther into the complex, she said.

But most important, the building’s sprinkler system was not triggered throughout the building. That would have caused severe water damage that would have taken much longer to repair.

Following the fire, maintenance crews continually refueled the building’s backup generator to preserve some $1.5 million worth of pharmaceuticals, including chemotherapy medications and vaccinations, in sealed refrigeration units. Keeping the generators going following the fires also prevented the MRI machine from “quenching,” where the liquid cryogen that cools the MRI magnet coils boils off rapidly because of a sudden loss of absolute zero temperature.

Neal said the fires forced many of the medical offices and services, including its obstetrics and family practice clinic, to relocate to several of the foundation’s other offices. She said they tried to find a room for each of the 43 physicians from the complex.

Dr. Mondhipa Ratnarathorn, a dermatology specialist, said her department “squatted” in two places, first at Stony Point Circle and then at 34 Mark West Springs Road, next to the Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

“It was kind of chaotic, understandably,” she said, adding that patients with severe conditions had to be seen. “We had patients with biopsy-proven skin cancer that we had to take care of.”

Ana Oberman, a physical therapist, said she was thankful to have her old gym back. Oberman was married on Oct. 8; the firestorms began that night. Her parents, who live in the Mark West Springs area near Safari West, were evacuated from their home and ended up staying at Oberman’s Petaluma home while she and her husband went on their honeymoon in Italy. Her parents’ home was spared.

One Tuesday, Rose Eshe of Santa Rosa, attended a physical therapy session with Oberman for a hip replacement she received on Nov. 15. Eshe said she was glad to be back at the Airway Drive complex.

“This is much nicer and roomier, with more machines to work on,” she said, adding that Monday was her first day driving following her surgery.

Services are being resumed in stages, with urgent care and advanced imaging coming back online in late November. Rheumatology and physical therapy departments were reopened on Dec. 1; lab services, endocrinology, dermatology, neurology, and oncology services resumed last week.

Online scheduling will be restarted in mid-December, while podiatry, orthopedics and breast cancer services are expected to reopen in January.

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