Russian River Health Center scrambles to maintain services after arson fire
With their 30-year-old community clinic destroyed by an arsonist, medical staff at the Russian River Health Center in Guerneville are scrambling to maintain services to the 3,500 patients who relied on the charred clinic.
Staff members have set up a mobile medical trailer across the street from the fire-gutted clinic to serve patients who cannot drive or find transportation to Sebastopol, where they have temporarily claimed space in two sister clinics.
Eventually, West County Health Centers wants to rebuild the Third Street clinic, its flagship facility. But for now, it is sending patients to Sebastopol and treating patients in Guerneville inside a cramped mobile unit with two exam rooms, just enough to accommodate the patients for a single physician.
“We’re definitely feeling the fatigue of it,” said Jerry Elliott, a physician assistant who has worked at the Guerneville clinic for five years.
“We’re trying to juggle all the things that need to be done,” Elliott said earlier this week, standing across the street from the burned structure. “You have to triage what needs to be done today and what can be left for later.”
A suspected arson fire tore through the clinic in the early hours of Dec. 26. Fire officials believe the fire started in a utility closet, got into an elevator shaft and spread throughout the building through the attic.
The loss of the clinic is a devastating blow for many Russian River residents who received their primary care at the facility, which was built in the mid-1980s.
Inside the facility were eight medical exam rooms, including one for pediatrics, a Quest Diagnostics lab station and five mental health counseling rooms. It also included physicians’ offices, a group meeting room, a staff room, a front office, a large patient waiting room and data servers.
Since the fire, medical and administrative staff for the West County Health Centers have been hammering out a plan to bring medical services back to the river community.
“We do want people to know that their care will not be interrupted,” said Mary Szecsey, executive director of West County Health Centers, the parent organization that operated the Russian River Health Center.
Aside from Guerneville, West County Health Centers operates medical clinics in several communities, including Occidental, Forestville and Sebastopol. It has set aside space in two of its Sebastopol clinics to treat Guerneville-area patients. Some transportation to the Sebastopol clinics is being provided by West County Community Services.
Szecsey said she and others will begin working this week on a short-term plan “to get everyone back here to Guerneville.” That plan likely will involve the use of a larger modular-type structure located somewhere in Guerneville.
“Long-term, the plan is to rebuild the clinic,” Szecsey said.
That likely will require significant funds coming from such federal agencies as the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, as well as private donations and a fundraising campaign, Szecsey said. The cost of rebuilding, she said, will be much more than the original $415,000 price tag to build the now-destroyed clinic.
The property, which is on the northwest corner of Church and Third streets, is owned by West County Health Centers. Over the years, the health care group has made a number of improvements to the site, including adding an elevator in 2002.