Northern California firestorm brings illness, strains healthcare system

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.”

Hospitals evacuated, medical offices destroyed

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.

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