Santa Rosa firestorm tests local health care services

Local hospitals step in to cover gaps in care following the closure of two Santa Rosa hospitals.|

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.

Moving patients

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.

“For a team that’s never been through this before, they acted remarkably and very efficiently,” Colthurst said, adding that local doctors and nurses came on board in the early morning, some of them from Sutter facilities.

But the disaster is straining the capabilities of that hospital, he said. Some of the hospital’s vendors, including its linen supplier, had workers who were affected in some way by the fire.

“We’re running short on linens and currently working to solve that dilemma,” Colthurst said. “Oxygen supplier was also affected. That’s been resolved today.”

Santa Rosa Community Health, which serves some 50,000 residents at its clinics in the Santa Rosa area, was forced to close its Vista Family Health Center on Round Barn Circle because of smoke and water damage. One of the county’s largest health centers, the facility has a roster of 27,000 patients and logs 90,000 patient visits annually.

At least 20 staff lost homes, said Naomi Fuchs, CEO of Santa Rosa Community Health.

“Everyone on our staff has been amazing, regardless of their own personal losses,” she said.

All Vista staff have been transferred to the health center’s other clinic sites and are open to anyone in the local community who needs nonemergency care. These sites include the Lombardi Campus at 751 Lombardi Court in southwest Santa Rosa; Brookwood Health Center at 983 Sonoma Ave. in downtown Santa Rosa; and the Pediatric Campus at 711 Stony Point Road. More information about facilities is available at Fuchs said those seeking medical care should call 707-303-3600 first, as many issues can be addressed over the phone.

Ready to help

Help is available for those who are having breathing problems or need attention for chronic illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. Help with medications is available at SRHC’s Lombardi pharmacy.

“If people just need medication, they should be able to get refills by taking their empty bottles to any pharmacy near their home and get it refilled for emergency,” Fuchs said. “This does not include controlled medications such as opioid pain medication. Those need a prescription from a physician.”

Obstetrics care is also available at all sites, she said, and the dental clinic on 1110 N. Dutton Ave. will reopen Wednesday.

The fire has also knocked out operations at the local Veterans Affairs clinic, said Matthew Coulson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Francisco. The Santa Rosa VA outpatient clinic is currently in one of the evacuation zones, he said.

VA patients who had appointments are being contacted by phone to reschedule their appointments, he said. If possible, patients can visit one of the VA’s other clinic sites in Clearlake, Ukiah or Eureka, which are still open.

“They’re not super close but that’s still an option,” Coulson said.

He said the VA has a 24/7 advice nurse available for anyone who is having fire-related health issues, at 800-733-0502.

Also affected by the fire was the St. Joseph Health Medical Group Cancer Center at Round Barn. Though fire did not destroy the building, the offices are in one of the evacuation zones. Patients are being contacted to reschedule appointments rescheduled.

DeGier, the Providence St. Joseph Health spokeswoman, said cancer patients will be seen at an outpatient clinic in Petaluma.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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