Emergency Preparedness – Wildfire Update

In October, some of the worst fires in California’s history burned thousands of acres of land, thousands of homes were lost, 42 people perished, and thousands of people were displaced. Impacted communities are still reeling from the devastating losses. 

Throughout this trying time, California’s community health centers remained open to treat their established patients as well as fire evacuees, even extending hours to meet the dire need. Even those centers themselves impacted by the fires continued to go above and beyond to assist their community.  In the early morning hours of Monday, October 9, Santa Rosa Community Health Centers’ (SRCH) largest health center, Vista Campus, was destroyed due to extensive fire, smoke, heat, and water damage in the firestorm that hit Northern California. In a few short hours, 24,000 people who received comprehensive primary care and mental health services at the Vista Campus lost their medical home. In spite of this devastating lost, SRCH remains true to its mission to serve their community.

Health centers in Northern California worked diligently with their Counties to ensure staffing of licensed medical providers at evacuee shelters.  OLE Health in Napa County was forced to close multiple sites during this disaster; nonetheless, staff were on the front lines of the relief efforts along with their first responder partners to provide medical assistance to residents affected by the wildfires. Petaluma Health Centers, West County Health Centers, Coastal Health Alliance and others, with the unwavering support from their local regional association, Redwood Community Health Coalition, mobilized health care teams and opened their doors to help those who had been displaced and had nowhere else to turn for care.   

Health centers around the state banded together to send available resources, including mobile medical vans, to fire-affected areas. Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center was able to provide SRCH with a mobile unit to aid in their efforts. Lifelong Medical Care, a community health center representing patients in the Bay Area, provided a temporary medical van to assist Petaluma Health Center in treating patients at a nearby evacuation shelter. 

The community members these health centers serve have low incomes, receive Medi-Cal or are uninsured, and face many barriers to health care including language, transportation, mental illness, and poverty. Now many are left without homes and jobs. Health centers are committed to making sure that they can continue to welcome patients with culturally responsive medical, dental, and mental health care. Health centers are also providing patients with necessary resources, including how to apply for CalFresh, information on local assistance centers, information on how to apply for FEMA and other state and federal resources, how to obtain emergency refills for prescription drugs and information on EDD Disaster services for patients who have lost their jobs as a result of the fires. 

The Departments of Health Care Services and Public Health have been engaged and responsive partners in addressing the urgent needs of impacted community health centers. The Departments have worked with health centers to prioritize this situation, providing invaluable flexibility in getting health centers the resources and assurances they need to resume and continue seeing patients throughout the affected area. Additionally, philanthropic partners in the impacted regions and statewide have played an important role in providing resources to aid the recovery efforts.

While we know that the road to recovery will be long and at times arduous, we are confident that health centers will persevere as they always do. CPCA is committed to helping health centers and their communities recover. We would like to thank the fire fighters, police officers, and others who worked together to coordinate relief efforts for fire-affected areas. Their hard work, sacrifices, and dedication cannot be overstated.