Sutter Lakeside Hospital: An Inside Look From the Evacuation Zone
LAKEPORT, Calif.–Air purifiers buzz as a handful of hospital employees gather in a conference room. Chief Administrative Officer Dan Peterson wears a gray Sutter Lakeside baseball cap, a week’s worth of stubble and teal green scrubs as he fields an endless stream of phone calls. Behind him hang large vinyl status boards attached with painter’s tape. Sutter Lakeside Hospital has been closed for several days because of raging wildfires that threaten the Lake County community.
It’s day five of Incident Command, a systemized, standard approach developed by FEMA for organizations to respond to emergencies. The hospital has been operating for four days as a shadow of its typical bustling self, its halls dark, with no patients or staff. Behind the hospital, flames from the River and Ranch fires engulf the hillsides, and smoke paints the sky orange, gray and white. Lake County is in crisis, battling two wildfires that threaten the communities of Kelseyville, Lakeport and Upper Lake.
A small team remains on site at Sutter Lakeside, and Lakeport remains under a mandatory evacuation order.
Early in the week, the hospital staff transported patients to receiving facilities, clearing each room in the hospital, charting and tracking transfers, coordinating communication with county agencies and securing the hospital for closure. Next will come the enormous task of preparing the hospital for reopening: restocking supplies, complying with state and federal regulations for patient repopulation and assisting the traumatized staff emotionally and financially.
For now, the team’s job consists of securing the hospital campus, monitoring equipment and systems that must remain in operation and balancing delicate conditions such as humidity, temperature and air content. The team also keeps an eye on the surrounding fires, thankful for the fortunate favor of the wind thus far.
Small team works through crisis
“I’ve witnessed an incredible display of sacrifice and bravery under duress,” said Peterson. “While our patients may have evacuated on Sunday, our work has not ceased. Since then, a team of brave individuals has remained on site with me 24 hours a day, ensuring the safety, security and continued functionality of the hospital. They have chosen to stay up throughout the night, foregoing the comforts of home or hotel, and they often find themselves well into the day without food or reprieve.
“The remainder of the hospital leadership team has worked nonstop from various evacuation sites—hotels, friends’ homes, even campgrounds—to meet patient needs, all while staying in touch with their friends and families.”
Looking to the future
Sutter Lakeside has assembled a task force dedicated to planning its reopening. Leaders call in to provide direction for the onsite team about how to keep the equipment safe. Team members from Lake County to Utah are responsible for ensuring that patients continue to get the care they need, and an assistance group is dedicated to ensuring the emotional, physical and financial well-being of evacuated employees.
From the hospital roof, Peterson and his team can survey the hospital surroundings.
“When the smoke clears and the flames die down,” he says, “Sutter Lakeside will continue to serve our patients with compassion and excellence.”