Timothy Lyons, MD, chief medical officer at Adventist Health St. Helena Hospital, recalled the night the Glass Fire began.
The physician was driving to the hospital on Sept. 27 when he could see the flames on the hills.
“Things looked bad,” Lyons admitted.
It quickly got worse.
“By the time I reached the edge of the valley it seemed the entire mountain was on fire,” he said.
Within hours, and for the second time in six weeks, the hospital mobilized and evacuated its staff and patients.
“As we turned the hospital over to CalFire, I wondered whether our hospital would survive or the fire would claim our facility. Would this place be lost?”
Thankfully, the answer was no.
On Tuesday, after being closed for more than 10 weeks due to impacts of the Glass Fire, 151-bed Adventist Health St. Helena Hospital reopened.
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“We are reopening at a challenging time,” said Dr. Lyons, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, “I am confident we will meet this challenge.”
“It feels great knowing that the staff will be back together to help our patients and community, especially during this critical time as we all face the crisis of COVID-19,” said hospital CEO Dr. Steven Herber. “But we’re here to do our part.”
It turned out that closing, and then reopening, a hospital is quite a complicated process.
During the fire, for the safety of the building and the crews working to protect it, the power needed to be turned off. Sensitive equipment — MRI machines, CT scanners, the nurse call system — needed to be shut down.
Once those sophisticated systems are turned off, Herber 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.
Reopening after a shutdown like St. Helena’s can take as long as three to six months, Herber said in a previous interview.
While no buildings on its campus sustained any damage, the fire did melt a portion of its water systems, he said.
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 staff, according to Herber. The closure resulted in revenue loss in the neighborhood of $30 million, he said.
The reopening was also dependent upon review from OSHPD (California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development) and the state’s Department of Public Health.
Adventist Health St. Helena Operations Executive Hoda Assadian said that the reopening process was all-consuming.
“Our teams have been working 24/7 to make the necessary repairs to our systems, deep cleaning the entire facility from top to bottom, replacing all supplies, flushing out the water system and removing debris. Getting all of the intricate systems and equipment cleaned, tested, retested and calibrated were onerous tasks critical to the reopening plan. We’re happy to report this hospital is now better than ever, and it’s been certified by officials that we’re safe and ready to reopen,” said Assadian.
Despite the resources required to reopen the hospital, Adventist Health wasn’t completely shut down.
Their team continued clinics in Napa, St. Helena and Calistoga and its mobile health program.
Mobi, the mobile health unit, provides access to primary care and COVID-19 testing via a mobile health van that travels to various locations throughout Napa Valley.
Adventist Health also launched free counseling to help residents deal with the stress of COVID-19 and the wildfire. Together with SyncTALK, by Sychronous Health, the counseling service connects participants to a licensed counselor who can help residents deal with the stress and anxiety they might be feeling.
The offer includes four free sessions, each 30 minutes long, and they’re held virtually via phone or video.
The 151-bed hospital, which offers an outpatient cancer center as well as cardiology services, referred patients to its sister hospitals — one in Clearlake and another in Yuba City — and also coordinated with Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.
The Glass Fire was one of the most destructive in Napa County history, destroying 308 homes and 343 commercial buildings Upvalley, as well as another 334 homes in Sonoma County, according to Cal Fire. Smoke from the Glass Fire plagued the entire Napa Valley.
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Catch up on Napa County's top news stories of 2020
In case you missed it, here is a look at the top stories of 2020.
It's been a turbulent year for the wine industry, which between intermittent wildfires, smoke events and pandemic lockdowns has attempted to remain open for business.
The Hennessey and Glass fires made 2020 a year to remember for all the wrong reasons.
It was the year when schools and universities went dark — and their denizens were left to teach and learn, online and indefinitely separated from their friends and peers.
COVID-19 has catapulted county government into the spotlight.
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org