Kaiser Permanente leaders describe the harrowing experience of evacuating the Santa Rosa, Calif., hospital during fires in the fall.
Weil: I was working that evening, Oct. 9, in the emergency department and around 1 a.m., I heard some of the radio chatter from the paramedics and realized that there was a structure fire probably within 3 or 4 miles of my house. So I called my wife to say there's some weird stuff happening out there.
About 15 minutes later, I got a call from one of my neighbors who didn't realize I was at work and he said, “You need to get out.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. I called Claire, my wife, and my 15-year-old daughter answered the phone. They were in the car and she was just screaming as she, my wife and our dogs were trying to drive off of our property and down the hill through a wall of flames on both sides of the street, burning branches falling in front of them, transformers exploding. It seemed like an eternity, but it was about 30 to 60 seconds until they were able to get out of it. I told them to come to the hospital so I knew that they were OK.
Coffey: All of the homes around me were burning. I was the administrator on call and, had I not actually gotten a call to get the command center up and running, I wouldn't have even known until maybe it was too late.
My husband had just had knee surgery, so I needed to get him up. And our next-door neighbor is 83 and just had a stroke, so I had to get her.
When I got to the hospital, I noticed that the trailer park next to the campus had caught fire. I saw Josh and we opened the command center.
Weil: It was already an unusually busy night when I started my shift around 11 p.m. And it was starting to get busier.
There were roughly 90 patients in the hospital and roughly 30 came in. All told in the end, we evacuated 122 patients, both inpatient and the emergency department.
The firefighters came in at 3:30 in the morning and used the words very, very clearly, I remember them, “We're making a last stand against the fire right now.”
We lined everybody up on the first floor of the hospital and identified somebody to stand by every patient; not necessarily a clinical person, but just somebody who would be with every patient.
We had already engaged the county and the city in terms of what we needed for transportation. The majority of patients went to Kaiser Permanente San Rafael.
Weil: There were over 210 Kaiser Permanente staff who lost their homes in Santa Rosa, and a number of them were here that night. Some of them were here when it started. Some of them came in after they lost their homes. But everybody who was here that night faced this unbelievable scenario.
Coffey: We even had an ICU nurse who called his wife and found out that their home was burning. She was 40 weeks pregnant. He told her to go to her mom's house, which is about 19 miles away. He didn't leave; he stayed to help with other patients. There are a lot of stories like that.
Weil: It would have been easy to understand if someone said: Look, I can't stay. I've got to go. I don't know anybody who did. I think every single person stayed to the end to make sure that we got our patients out safely.