Sarah Krevans, president and CEO of Sutter Health, talks to Modern Healthcare Managing Editor Matthew Weinstock about how the Northern California system dealt with and still is dealing with the wildfires sweeping the state.
Modern Healthcare: What impact have the fires had on Sutter Health?
Sarah Krevans: We have a full service acute-care hospital in Santa Rosa which was in the middle of one of the first big fires. Members of the community, as they were leaving the surrounding areas, came into the hospital because hospitals are often seen as a safe haven during disasters.
So when we were evacuating the hospital, we not only had to get our own patients out and our staff, but we had some community members, including loved ones of patients.
It was the early morning hours when all of this started. Many staff lived in the evacuation zones and knew that their own houses were at risk, but were there evacuating patients and being sure that everyone got out safely.
We were able to lean on our sister facilities throughout the Sutter Health system and transfer patients to Novato Community Hospital, which is a small hospital also located in the North Bay. Their census literally doubled in a couple of hours.
We had a command center opened in Sacramento, which was our system incident command center and we had sub-command centers in Santa Rosa, Novato and Solano. We had a separate one for our home-care agency, which had to evacuate its headquarters. And then we needed to call on our tertiary facilities throughout the system.
MH: As all of this was happening, where were you? As chief executive, what was your role?
Krevans: Your role is not necessarily to be the incident commander for this kind of thing, it's to ensure that you have those things in place and ensure that people are supported and coached. I did not step in as the incident commander. I had some incredibly talented people who did that. And what I did was help them identify what might be missing.
MH: So now, you've opened Santa Rosa, right?
Krevans: Yes. We'll be starting up elective surgery again. We had a wonderful family house available for our patients' families that unfortunately was destroyed in the fire (see photo below), so we will look at our long-term plans for replacing that. We have a couple of medical office buildings that haven't reopened yet. And then dealing with the fact almost 100 staff and physicians have lost their homes. Whole neighborhoods have been destroyed and may never come back in the same form.
MH: As you think about that, how does it change any of your plans strategically for serving these communities?
Krevans: This is a time when knowing your core values and core mission is important; it really matters. For example, we paid all of our employees the entire time we were closed. For employees who didn't have the ability to rent a hotel room or they didn't have money for food, our HR department gave out cash. We have started a disaster relief philanthropic fund and we've had just an outpouring of generosity from our employees to help each other.
It's not about the buildings that make the healthcare system, it's about the people who work in them. You deal with the financial after-effects down the road. Strategically, having had the foresight to really think about how we could specialize as a system and react as a system was very helpful. We've also invested a tremendous amount in our electronic health record and we were able to use that capability to reach out to our patients to understand what medications they were on and actually to prioritize which patients needed to be seen and where we needed to have capacity.
Related story: "Wildfires strain California hospitals"