GUERNEVILLE - Providers and patients who endured 8½ months of cramped, improvised facilities in the wake of a December arson fire that destroyed the Russian River Health Center are back at their old site in new digs serving the lower Russian River communities.
The health center in downtown Guerneville — medical home for 3,500 patients — reopened last month at Third and Church streets in a modular structure assembled where the charred remains of the longtime clinic once stood. Spotless and orderly, the 3,300-square-foot clinic is smaller but features seven exam rooms, three restrooms, a waiting room, lab, staff offices and other facilities. Though lacking the quirky, lived-in familiarity of the old health center — a one-time house expanded and remodeled multiple times — the new facility offers convenience and luxury compared to what had been cobbled together in the aftermath of the fire, when the clinic operated mainly out of a 600-foot modular unit and a mobile medical van.
“So much room!” medical assistant Charlie Davis said Thursday. “We can move around, finally.”
The health center is one of four primary care clinics operated by the nonprofit West County Health Centers. The nonprofit also runs a dental clinic and teen outreach center in Guerneville as well as a wellness center in Forestville, and has provided critical medical and behavioral health care to the west Sonoma County community for more than 40 years, most of it in the Third Street building that went up in flames on the day after Christmas last year. The loss of the clinic was a source of grief and anger throughout town, but the staff spent little time mourning. By that Monday, they were seeing patients with the help of a borrowed recreational vehicle modified into a mobile clinic and a small modular unit acquired specifically for homeless health care. Both were parked adjacent to the West County Health Centers’ dental clinic. Patients used the waiting room at the dental clinic, some of which was also shared with the medical staff. Supplies were kept in two emergency response units in the parking lot. When it rained, people got wet. Patients who could drive were diverted in many cases to clinics in Sebastopol and some were provided transportation.
But the health care providers know there were patients who cut back on appointments to avoid the extra travel or to lessen the burden on the staff.
West County Health Centers Executive Director Mary Szecsey said visits — which typically ran about 50 a day before the fire — have declined about 25 percent in the months since.The patients who stayed received uninterrupted care, despite the use of exam rooms on wheels that patient Gretchen Williams, 64, jokingly said sometimes “used to feel like an earthquake.”
The staff, Williams said, “is just an amazing group of people, and they very much care about the patients and the community, and they’ve been through a lot.”
Stephanie O’Connell said the clinic is so much a part of the community its loss would have been “tragic.”
“The care here is so good,” said O’Connell, 58. “The doctors are so caring and involved with the patients. ... It was a concern when I didn’t know if we were going to get our health center back.”
DeEtte DeVille, the site’s medical director, said the resilience of the patients and the flexibility of staff in the months since the fire have been remarkable.
Russian River Health Center
The Russian River Health Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center providing comprehensive primary and preventive care and accepts all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
To make an appointment, call (707) 869-2849.