Among the many thousands of Kincade Fire evacuation stories was one that included 22 ambulances, rolling gurneys, a contrary electric generator and “go boxes” full of blood bags and cases of prescription drugs. All these were part of the scene late Saturday, Oct. 26 as staff and emergency response teams evacuated 22 acute and subacute patients from the Healdsburg District Hospital.
The Healdsburg hospital was the first to be evacuated during the wildfire disaster as Santa Rosa’s Sutter and Kaiser were forced to close several hours later the same evening. Healdsburg’s patients were relocated to North Bay Medical Center in Fairfield, Suisun County. The hospital remained closed until final safety inspections were completed on Nov. 19.
“The response from everyone was outstanding,” said hospital CEO Joe Harrington. “We learned a lot from the 2017 fires and we basically let central command handle it. From the time we got the evacuation orders, we had 20 rigs (ambulances) rolling up to our doors with EMTs.”
Harrington said the hospital was “buttoned up” by 9:30 p.m. and a “closed” sign with posted alerts was hung on the Emergency Room doors. The only “glitch” happened the next night when Harrington got a call from police about a generator that had automatically switched on in the middle of the night and had to be disarmed.
The biggest impact to the hospital that was built in 1972 was seven days of scrubbing and cleanup that followed after the fire threat and smoke had dissipated. Just like the surrounding neighborhood of homes, the hospital on University Street sat under clouds of wildfire smoke for several days as the Kincade Fire battle took place on Healdsburg’s eastern flank.
State public health laws require every square inch of the facility be cleaned and tested. All equipment had to be thoroughly cleaned inside and out and any supplies left behind had to be replaced with new stock. Harrington estimated his staff may have salvaged thousands of dollars of medical supplies that were relocated to nearby health care facilities with uninterrupted power and refrigeration.
Hospital staff gained access the Oct. 29 when the mandatory evacuation orders for Healdsburg were lifted. The hospital also contracted with industrial and hazardous materials contract crews. Alliance Clinic next door to the hospital does not have in-patient facilities and avoided the strict mandated scrubbing.
Hospital employees lost several days of work and Harrington said the full economic impacts to the staff and operations are still being tallied. The hospital has 175 employees and usually about 80 are assigned to a daily shift.
Inspectors from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development made several visits to Healdsburg to monitor and assist with the massive cleanup.
“The response was great,” Harrington said. “They were calling me before I got a chance to call them.”
Harrington also praised the communications and response from Healdsburg fire, police and city staff.
“We saw a true inter-agency response,” he said.
The board of the North Sonoma County Healthcare District is set to meet in the coming days for a series of “post event” reports and consideration for next steps.
Healdsburg District Hospital is a community-owned hospital, partially funded by annual property owner parcel taxes.