Sutter hospital in Santa Rosa reopens eight days after being closed by firestorm

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The smell of smoke, though faint, could still be detected Tuesday morning inside Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital as medical staff opened the doors to patients for the first time since the Tubbs fire forced the hospital to evacuate eight days ago.

Everything — the walls, floors, medical equipment, patient scheduling screens — looked spotless, as it did when the hospital opened for the first time just three years ago.

Though many had been working at other health care locations and local evacuation centers since the fire, Sutter medical and administrative staff said they were thrilled to be back at work Tuesday morning.

At the facility’s neonatal intensive care unit, Dr. Scott Witt, a neonatal and perinatal physician, said he and other medical staff in the unit were preparing for expectant mothers to arrive. When the hospital closed down, the eight babies then in the NICU were evacuated to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Six patients were discharged last week and two were transferred to Sutter-affiliated California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

“We’re just waiting for babies to be born and for those two to be brought back,” said Witt.

Throughout the morning, Sutter hospital CEO Mike Purvis visited hospital staff, welcoming them back to work. Purvis, who lost his Fountaingrove home to the fire, said it had been imperative to get the facility back in operation as soon as possible. With the closure of the Sutter hospital and the nearby Kaiser Permanente hospital, Sonoma County was left with only one major regional hospital, Memorial.

“This is a time of great need. We’re excited to be back,” said Purvis, adding that Sutter’s “team” of medical professionals worked extremely hard to reopen the hospital.

But Purvis said the broader effort to bring hospital services back to Santa Rosa is a much broader effort.

“We’re part of a larger team that includes Kaiser and Memorial hospitals,” he said.

With the reopening of the Sutter facility, all hospital services except for elective surgeries were resumed Tuesday. Elective surgeries will resume Thursday, Sutter officials said Tuesday afternoon.

The medical office building at the Sutter campus on Mark West Springs Road remains closed. Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation’s large medical complex on Airway Drive, which includes imaging services, an outpatient clinic and urgent care center, remains closed. The east side of the building, which is closest to Highway 101, received some fire damage and Sutter crews are currently conducting an assessment of the damage.

A complete list of Sutter facilities currently open or closed is available here.

Kaiser, which on Monday opened the two main medical office buildings on Bicentennial Way, has yet to reopen its adjacent hospital, which was also closed due to smoke damage.

The fire destroyed the homes of nearly 150 Kaiser employees, including doctors and nurses, and at least 60 Sutter employees and doctors.

Before reopening, the hospitals require extensive cleaning and restocking of medical supplies. Regulatory agencies also need to inspect the facilities to make sure they are safe.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Miller, Sutter’s chief engineer for the hospital, clung to a thick binder of regulatory documents and procedures that were guiding his work in relaunching the hospital.

Miller, who was on call the morning of the fire, recalled how he and other maintenance and security staff spent those early hours battling spot fires outside on the grounds to prevent the building from being damaged. He said the structure’s design, stucco walls, rubber membrane roof and on-site water treatment and storage facility helped keep the building from going up in flames even as fire burned all around the building.

The hospital’s water system was also used by state and local fire agencies to battle fires in the surrounding neighborhood.

“We estimate all the agencies, using water for their water trucks, took roughly half a million gallons of water,” he said.

Dr. Craig Cohen, who works in Sutter’s emergency department, said Tuesday he was glad to be back at work. Cohen was on duty last week when fire victims were still arriving at the hospital even after Sutter officials made the decision to evacuate the facility at 1:55 a.m.

“We were still getting patients; a couple were critical,” he said. Cohen said that many doctors and nurses in the hospital came down to the emergency department to care for patients brought in that morning.

“All the patients who came to us were taken care of really well,” he said.

On Tuesday, the morning started slow, with only two patients admitted and five in the emergency department. By 5 p.m., the hospital had seen 15 emergency patients, eight patients admitted, and one patient in labor and delivery.

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

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