In­ferno overex­tends health­care sys­tem

The North­ern Cal­i­for­nia fires are strain­ing med­i­cal ser­vices, with au­thor­i­ties hav­ing ‘no sense of when this is go­ing to end’

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla

The deadly North­ern Cal­i­for­nia fires — by forc­ing the evac­u­a­tion of sev­eral hospi­tals and clin­ics and de­stroy­ing the homes of many doc­tors and nurses — have put a strain on avail­able med­i­cal ser­vices.

The Pe­taluma Health Cen­ter can­celed all sched­uled ap­point­ments this week to make time for peo­ple re­quir­ing ur­gent care. They’ve treated asth­mat­ics strug­gling to breathe amid some of the most un­healthy air in Bay Area his­tory, as well as peo­ple who sprained their an­kles or for­got to grab their med­i­ca­tions as they raced from burn­ing homes in nearby Santa Rosa, clinic chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Pe­dro Toledo said.

Echo­ing health providers across the re­gion, Toledo said the sit­u­a­tion has been es­pe­cially stress­ful be­cause the dan­ger isn’t

gone. The many fires dev­as­tat­ing wine coun­try are nowhere near con­tain­ment, and the clinic could be threat­ened if the wind changes. This week, staff made emer­gency sup­ply kits for their cars.

“A ma­jor earth­quake hits and then it’s over … we still have no sense of when this is go­ing to end,” Toledo said. “This thing could get worse.”

As the Tubbs fire closed in Mon­day morn­ing, staff evac­u­ated more than 200 pa­tients from Kaiser Per­ma­nente Santa Rosa and Sut­ter Santa Rosa Re­gional hospi­tals.

Video footage showed peo­ple in scrubs wheel­ing pa­tients hooked up to IVs out of the Kaiser hospi­tal — with or­ange flames just feet away.

The hospi­tals that re­main open have been treat­ing the trans­ferred pa­tients, as well as tend­ing to those suf­fer­ing from se­vere smoke in­hala­tion or burns. Oth­ers have shown up at emer­gency rooms af­ter be­ing in­jured while evac­u­at­ing, in car crashes or falls.

“There’s cer­tainly been a strain on some of our fa­cil­i­ties,” said Dr. Josh Weil, as­sis­tant physi­cian-in-chief at Kaiser Per­ma­nente Santa Rosa.

Weil said staff were us­ing med­i­cal of­fices on the Santa Rosa cam­pus, which es­caped dam­age, as a com­mand cen­ter, but that the rapidly chang­ing con­di­tions made it dif­fi­cult to plan.

About 150 Kaiser em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing Weil, al­ready had lost their homes to fire, he said. And those who haven’t were mon­i­tor­ing the po­ten­tial risk to theirs.

“You keep think­ing … ‘All right, we’re through this.’ And then we’re not,” Weil said. “You think it’s safe, and then it’s un­der threat again. You think it’s safe … and then it’s gone.”

The air qual­ity in the Bay Area has been abysmal this week. Cars are filled with ash, and apart­ments smell like smoke. The air feels thick.

Health of­fi­cials have ad­vised res­i­dents not to go out­doors un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. The pol­luted air can cause cough­ing or dizzi­ness and ex­ac­er­bate em­phy­sema, asthma and other lung dis­eases.

Toledo said the clinic treated 600 pa­tients on Wed­nes­day alone, most of whom were com­plain­ing of smoke-re­lated is­sues. Asthma flare-ups. Red and sting­ing eyes. Many asked for in­halers to breathe eas­ier.

Doc­tors and nurses at the clinic wore masks and handed them out to pa­tients.

One com­pany in­stalled air pu­ri­fiers to try to help with the smoke at three of its dial­y­sis clin­ics, said Gerry Ar­gue, a di­vi­sion vice pres­i­dent at DaVita.

“The dial­y­sis pa­tient pop­u­la­tion is al­ready quite frag­ile ... so they’re more vul­ner­a­ble,” Ar­gue said.

Weather ex­perts say shift­ing con­di­tions make it hard to know when the air qual­ity will im­prove.

Shivawn Brady, who evac­u­ated from her Glen Ellen home in the Sonoma Val­ley on Mon­day, has been help­ing dis­trib­ute goods to shel­ters across the re­gion.

“From what I’m hear­ing, the hard­est thing is get­ting hold of med­i­cal sup­plies,” Brady said.

The need was par­tic­u­larly se­vere, she said, at shel­ters hous­ing pa­tients evac­u­ated from nurs­ing homes. Re­quests have come in for sy­ringes, in­halers, bed pans, eye drops, hy­dro­cor­ti­sone cream and glu­come­ters to check di­a­betic pa­tients’ blood sugar lev­els.

“They’re just in short sup­ply ev­ery­where,” Brady said.

Af­ter the roof of the Vista Fam­ily Health Cen­ter be­gan to melt Mon­day morn­ing, sprin­klers flooded the fa­cil­ity that treats 27,000 pa­tients a year, Santa Rosa Com­mu­nity Health Cen­ters CEO Naomi Fuchs said.

Now staff mem­bers are try­ing to serve pa­tients from the sys­tem’s other fa­cil­i­ties and have set up a phone bank to an­swer peo­ple’s med­i­cal ques­tions.

Fuchs said the most com­mon re­quests have come from res­i­dents who evac­u­ated with­out their pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions.

She re­called hold­ing a meet­ing this week and see­ing her staff, many of whom had lost their homes, ea­ger to work.

“Tears just started stream­ing down my face,” Fuchs said, de­scrib­ing it as both “heart­break­ing and heart­warm­ing.”

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

A WHEEL­CHAIR is aban­doned near the evac­u­ated Villa Capri as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity on Mon­day in Santa Rosa. Health providers across the re­gion are see­ing re­sources and staff stretched thin as the fires rage on.

Jane Tyska As­so­ci­ated Press

SMOKE FILLS the air in down­town Cal­is­toga on Wed­nes­day. Half of the city in Napa County was evac­u­ated in the face of an ap­proach­ing fire.

As­so­ci­ated Press

IN AN IM­AGE from video pro­vided by KGO-TV/ABC7 News, hospi­tal em­ploy­ees evac­u­ate a pa­tient from Kaiser Per­ma­nente Santa Rosa on Mon­day af­ter a wild­fire forced evac­u­a­tions through­out the re­gion.

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