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St. Helena hospital nears reopening after two months closed following wildfires

Adventist Health St. Helena closed

Adventist Health St. Helena has been closed since the Glass Fire started in late September.

In late September, Adventist Health St. Helena evacuated all of its patients for the second time this fire season.

Just over a month earlier, the LNU Complex Fires had prompted a nighttime evacuation order for the hospital and its surroundings. This time, though, things were different — the fast-moving Glass Fire was unpredictable, officials told hospital staff, and was a real threat to the hospital’s campus. The health care provider would need to do more than evacuate patients and declare the hospital closed.

For the safety of the building and the crews working to protect it, power needed to be turned off. Sensitive equipment — MRI machines, CT scanners, the nurse call system — needed to be shut down.

That was more than seven weeks ago, and the hospital has not yet reopened, Adventist Health St. Helena President & CEO Dr. Steven Herber said Monday. Once those kinds of sophisticated systems are turned off, he explained, the process of turning them back on is not as simple as flipping a switch.

“Restoring power to all of these systems — it’s kind of like a nervous system in the body. It has to be calibrated. When you restore power to it, it needs fine tuning,” Herber said.

Wildfires in previous years – including the Kincade Fire in 2019 and the Tubbs Fire in 2017 — have prompted similar hospital evacuations in the area. A string of Santa Rosa hospitals closed for a week or two amid both of those fires, though reopening after a shutdown like St. Helena’s can take as long as three to six months, according to Herber.

While no buildings on its campus sustained any damage, the fire did melt a portion of its water systems, he added.

Flames also destroyed five hospital housing units, Herber told KCBS Radio in October, as well as 150 nearby power poles.

Business interruption insurance has allowed the hospital to continue to pay its entire staff in full throughout the course of the shutdown, according to Herber. The closure has prompted revenue loss in the neighborhood of $30 million, he said.

The 151-bed hospital, which offers an outpatient cancer center as well as cardiology services, has referred patients to its sister hospitals — one in Clearlake and another in Yuba City — and has also coordinated with Queen of the Valley Hospital in the city of Napa, where some of its physicians have admitting privileges, Herber said.

A medical office building and an onsite outpatient pharmacy will open midweek this week, Herber said, while the hospital itself is expected to reopen sometime around Thanksgiving. The opening is dependent upon review from OSHPD (California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) and the state’s department of public health, he cautioned.

Both will conduct “exhaustive” and “thorough” examinations of hospital facilities to ensure the shutdown will not adversely impact patient safety going forward, Herber said.

Inspections assess air particulate exposure levels in buildings, air filtration systems, structural integrity of individual buildings and functionality of basic utilities like electricity and water supply, according to guidelines for hospital repopulation after evacuations issued by the California Hospital Association.

“All of this comes from a good place, and that is making sure the hospital is operating appropriately,” he added. “(These examinations) are a lot of work to prepare for and a lot of work to go through, but it is absolutely the right thing to do when you have a hospital that’s been through what we have.”


President & CEO Glen Newhart undergoes surveillance testing for COVID-19 on Tuesday, September 8.

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