Written by: Ray Pedden

Across Northern California, wildfires have scorched more than 200,000 acres. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate, many losing their homes to the fires, and thousands of structures have burned to the ground.

Our safety net providers have shouldered more than their fair share of the devastation. Facilities have been destroyed and clinic staff have suffered personal and family loses. But they’ve stepped up to the challenge of serving our patients – underserved and vulnerable communities who are battling their own fire-related injuries and health issues.

Clinic staffers are taking on new roles to help coworkers who can’t get to work because of blocked roads or evacuations. Providers are going to pharmacies to help fill prescriptions and expedite what could have been an enormous bottleneck. There’s an amazing back office of call centers and care teams who are ensuring our patients are safe.

These are the people that make us GREAT and yet you never see them on cable television.

While I can’t name every person who is going above and beyond to do what needs to be done, here are a few examples:

Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center

Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center is located in the quiet community of Fremont, California. Caring for more than 15,000 members of their community means the center’s schedule is full every day. In addition to the health services provided at its own clinics in Hayward and Union City, Tiburcio also provides numerous social services to the community including perinatal and family counseling, walking groups, Zumba classes, enrollment in Women and Infants and Children (WIC) family planning and health education, school-based health services, community clean up days, and much more.

When the fires destroyed Santa Rosa Community Health Center’s facility, Santa Rosa lost all capacity to deliver care to underserved patients in its community.

But a quick phone call to David Vliet, Brent Copen, Caleb Sandford and Wil Lacro at Tiburcio identified a mobile clinic with two exam rooms. Within four hours, Tiburcio made its van available to help Santa Rosa see patients in desperate need of care.

This is a clear case of our safety net organizations truly supporting one another in time of need.

Luke Entrup at West County Health Centers

Once Luke Entrup recognized the magnitude of the health care challenges facing the Sonoma County region, he immediately took responsibility for mobilizing a broad range of organizations.

Luke identified the needs and priorities at West County, Santa Rosa and Petaluma Health Centers. He found a key group of individuals in each of those organizations and quickly began coordinating activities to fill their critical needs.

For example, when Tiburcio’s mobile clinic needed to move from Fremont to Santa Rosa, Luke picked up the 30-foot RV himself and drove it to Santa Rosa.

Elisabeth Chicoine at Santa Rosa Community Health Centers

Elisabeth Chicoine is a nurse in Santa Rosa.

No office, no computer, no phone – no problem. Armed with her cell phone, borrowed laptops, and scraps of paper, Elisabeth is successfully coordinating the deployment of mobile clinical units, medical supplies, and personnel.

In addition, she has worked with FEMA to deliver two temporary clinic units – converted shipping containers – to a patch of ground that she’s talked the City of Santa Rosa into allowing her to use.

Much of this is completely outside her primary expertise a nurse, but she has taken it upon herself to make it happen.

West County Health Centers

It is Monday morning October 9, 2017. Smoke is in the air and fire seems to be everywhere. At West County Health Centers, Marlo Carreno is stressed out. Phones are ringing off the hook with calls from patients who needed help and support. She’s focused on meeting their needs, even as she worries about her coworkers who have called in a panic that night or just didn’t show up to work.

While attempting to rally her staff that day, a crew of people arrived and asked Marlo, “What can we do?”

Ke’Aira Hoston, Megan Cunsolo, Yesenia Martin, Dana Valley, Brenda Rizo, Mayra Flores, Bertha Rivera, Joe Hathaway, Jeremie Robenolt, Lorena Vigil, and Amber Hulsey all jumped in and began answering the growing need to get to the right place at the right time to deliver the right care. Some had call center experience, while others were simply there to help.

Mayra, a new staff member with two weeks on the job, had been forced to evacuate. But she has been living out of her car, parked outside the clinic, to support our patients.

Later, Jenny Zapp, who works as a HIV coordinator, stepped up to provide emotional support to frazzled staff, so they can better concentrate on their jobs, families, and their patient-centered care.

Natalie Hogan, who lives in downtown Santa Rosa, was evacuated. Yet, despite the stress, she has spent many, many evening hours after work volunteering at the Veterans Hall in Santa Rosa and Guerneville. She is a clear example of what community health care is all about.

Minda Perez started calling patients from the centers’ disaster outreach list. The response was amazing. All of the patients expressed how wonderful it was to have someone check in on them. One patient became very tearful. Minda spent a lot of time on the phone listening to patients describe all the difficult, traumatic situations they’ve endured. Even if patients don’t need any of our resources right now, Minda believes we are helping them cope just by asking what they went through and listening to them talk about their experiences.

 

WCHC

 

Most of the folks in the safety net fly under the radar and we never hear about their heroics. But everyone deserves recognition and THANKS for going above and beyond the call of duty. Tell us your stories at [email protected] so we can highlight more health care heroes.

To support wildfire relief efforts in Northern California, there are a number of ways to help. While it will take time to identify specific needs, financial donations to grantmaking organizations and nonprofit disaster response groups are the best way to help our communities: