Articles, Blog

CleanMed’s Environmental Health Heroes Award: Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center


♪ ♪ I have done a lot of
international work. I’ve been to Haiti
following the earthquake. I’ve been to the Philippines following the super typhoon. I’ve been to Sri Lanka
following the tsunami. I’ve seen a lot of destruction and hurt people and
communities disrupted but I’ve always been
moving through. I’ve been there knowing that
in a few weeks’ time, I would be going home. I would be going home
to my family, to my bed. And what I thought now was,
“I don’t have a home to go to. I don’t know when I will
have a home to go to.” ♪ ♪ My shift starts at 11:00 PM. The hospital was already
feeling the impact of smoke and we’re starting to see some complaints related to the smoke and even some people saying that they had
escaped some flames. Every time the paramedics
bring patients in, their radios
are always chirping with the activity
in the community and I was hearing about
a structure fire here and grass fire there. And at one point, one of the paramedics
looked at me and he said, “Every fire asset in the county is deployed right now.” And that was the first time that the hair went up
on the back of my neck and I thought, “This is gonna be a different night.” So I called my wife and I said, “You know, it’s a little bit
weird out there. Why don’t you get some
things ready just in case?” It was around 1:15 AM that
I was in seeing a patient and my personal phone went off and it was my neighbor Mike and he’s just yelling at me, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” And he doesn’t know
that I’m at work. I run out of the patient’s room and I immediately called
my wife’s cell phone back, only it’s my 15-year-old daughter Sophie who answers the phone
and she’s just screaming. That’s all she can do is scream. It seemed forever but it was probably about 30 seconds until I hear my wife getting back
into the car. “Okay, we’re in the car. We’re in the car,
we’re driving.” and they’re driving through walls of flame and burning branches
and she said, “Okay, we’re out. We’re out.” It was around 3:00 AM
that the fire team came in and they said to me,
“We’re making our last stand.” There is a trailer park
just adjacent to our property on the north
with a dry creek bed in between and they going to use the
last two rows of trailers to try and hold the fire
off of our property and I said,
“Okay, time to evacuate.” And the firefighters
actually said, “Well, we’re not making
that recommendation. We’re recommending
shelter in place.” And I said,
“Time to evacuate.” And that’s when we decided
to evacuate the hospital. ♪ ♪ It’s a big deal to make that decision to evacuate a hospital and we had 122 patients and that included at least
one patient on the ventilator, a couple of patients
in the NICU, and of course, med surge patients and emergency patients. ♪ ♪ That morning on the ninth, it looked like a bomb had gone off. All that was left of the homes were chimneys and the shells of cars. The impact after the fires and the immediate days
that followed, we had to deal with
the emotional impact of our community
being devastated. ♪ ♪ We have 170,000 plus people
who call Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser hospital,
and the clinics, their medical home. People still needed medications and they needed appointments and they needed procedures
and they needed to have babies. And so we pulled together
to set up systems to continue delivering
that care. In our community, there were tens of thousands
of people who were displaced who were now in shelters and they needed medication refills and they needed to be evaluated for their breathing problems and they needed to be
evaluated for their anxiety and their loss. The result of the fire
was obviously substantial impact to
the air quality in the area. I’ve heard numbers like 50 packs of cigarette smoking equivalent for people who were
breathing the air for the week
that followed the fire. And I walked around a lot
without a mask and I still wonder what impact that will have for the years to come. ♪ ♪ For many, many months, we saw an increase
in respiratory illness. I’ve heard a number as close
to 40 percent increase in emergency department visits
for respiratory illness as far out as March of 2018. And what researchers still don’t know is what the impact will be to children born around
that time and to heart disease. We certainly know that
people who have had ongoing respiratory illness, exacerbations of COPD
and asthma but also anxiety and depression. And we have seen a substantial rise of psychiatric visits to our emergency department since the fires. I mean, the stress that it puts on people and on their families is substantial, and people continue to feel it
2+ years later. ♪ ♪ Climate change clearly has an impact to health on many levels. From my perspective
as a physician, what I see is that, as we have more heat
and we have more fires, we’re going to deal with
those respiratory illnesses. We can also, I think,
expect to see more heat-related illnesses. We’re going to use
more and more electricity for air conditioning, you know, so we’re gonna have to
figure out ways to address that. Food is clearly
a part of medicine. As we move into more arid
periods of our existence, we’re going to find food
challenges that much greater. When I’ve been to
other countries where food and food supplies
are much more challenged, the people aren’t healthy because they’re not getting
the foods that they need, then they are more susceptible to diseases. We have seen the rise in
the mosquito-borne illnesses. Whether it’s food,
whether it’s heat illnesses, whether it’s smoke related,
as we see more fires, that’s going to become more
and more part of the picture as we move forward. Kaiser Permanente has been
very forward-thinking and progressive in trying
to address this problem. We’re going to be carbon neutral in 2020 and on my own campus
I am continually seeing new solar panels going up over parking lots and on buildings and we have a new building
that went up recently that is a low-use building. So I’m really proud to be
a part of the organization. Every story
deserves a happy ending and we did have a happy ending in our story. I managed to
make it up to our property and I had sort of held out hope that I might find our house there but it wasn’t there. And my wife had left the house
not being able to find our cat. And we also have two goats
on the property. And as she left, she just
kind of looked at the goats and couldn’t do anything, couldn’t stop. And so I get up to the house and I’m there with a friend of mine and I’m calling for my cat and I’m crying and behind me
I hear baaa, baaa. ♪ ♪ And my two goats had somehow
managed to survive the fire. We don’t really know
except to think that they did what goats do. And so their the grass
was mowed down in their pen and I think the fire
just flashed over them. They were a little bit singed but then their fence burned down and they probably just
hopped over that and then they said, “Oh, you know,
here are all these grapes.” I have grapes on my property. “All these grapes
we’ve been trying to eat for all these years.” So they were just sitting
there chewing on the grapes and doing okay. And they are now living with some friends in the East Bay and looking forward to
moving back up when we hopefully have our house back by the end of this year. ♪ ♪

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