Health care facilities are required to have a plan ready for disaster, should it strike.
So Cynthia Jimenez, manager for OLE Health‘s Calistoga and St. Helena health centers, knew what to do when the Pacific Gas and Electric Company turned off power to an estimated three-quarters of Napa County, including both Upvalley clinics, in hopes to prevent sparking a wildfire.
Workers spent hours packing vaccines in ice coolers and monitoring their temperatures, in preparation to store them at one of OLE Health’s Napa facilities. They printed out medical records and a week’s worth of appointments, and reported to work after cold showers and arranging for babysitters to watch children ordered to stay home from school.
“All of them showed up to work as needed, as usual, regardless of any situation they were living at home,” Jimenez said. “We value our patients.”
While the Calistoga health center was without power for just a few hours, she said the St. Helena location went dark for two days. Most patients still showed up. They trusted staff to be there for them, Jimenez said.
After the outage was over, staff had to manually input handwritten notes on medical records into the electronic system, then evaluate their overall response to the outage and figure out how to improve going forward.
A generator will be purchased to cool the vaccines, at the very least, she said.
“We have a lot to learn from this type of experience,” Jimenez said.
The patients, she said, were thankful and gracious. They understood staff could only do so much, working by battery-operated equipment and with limited resources.
One St. Helena patient with a chronic condition had to come back three times during the shutoff, Jimenez said. He was seen by a specialist who was able to help him get needed treatment.
“This is just another way that we serve our patients, regardless,” she said. “Our doors are always open.”
Also without power — like much of south Napa along Imola Avenue — was the Meadows of Napa Valley retirement community, which includes a skilled nursing care unit.
Two-thirds of the campus, including the care center, had limited power thanks to a generator, but a third was without, said Executive Director Wayne Panchesson. The third of the campus without power included the older half of the independent living unit, built in 1982.
“It impacted us pretty hard,” he said. “We were literally in the dark.”
Panchesson said staff knew the shutoffs were imminent and started to implement its emergency plan before the campus lost power at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday.
The 2014 earthquake and 2017 wildfires gave Meadows staff an idea of how they needed to respond. The 331 residents at the Meadows still have to be fed three times per day. Patients receiving oxygen and IVs still need treatment.
Still, he said, there were glitches.
Hospitals continued to refer patients to the Meadows, but with communication lines down, messages didn’t come through, he said. Families couldn’t communicate with residents, though Meadows modified its site to make it easier for families to reach loved ones and get updates.
“We were down to one (emergency) cell phone in each building,” he said.
Panchesson headed to FedEx to print out memos to be hung on the residents’ doors. Hot water began to run low, so a generator had to be hooked up to that, too. Staff provided about 300 flashlights, but they mysteriously ran out.
“Everybody wants a couple,” he said.
Residents were understanding and grateful for the care that staff was able to provide, in spite of the inconveniences, Panchesson said. With power out, staff had to manually check on residents. Others pitched in to check on their neighbors.
Lessons learned? More flashlights are needed. And a half-million dollar generator to power the last third of the campus, he said.
The biggest goal was to ensure residents got the same level of care they had before they lost power, said Kristi Morrow, health care manager at Meadows. Staff went through each patient’s case file to ensure their needs were met and printed out all of their records. As of Friday, they were scanning handwritten records back into the system.
With limited power, the Meadows only powered emergency outlets to allow residents to plug in beds, oxygen concentrators and air mattresses.
They got creative to keep residents entertained. Allowing in-room TV would use too much power, so staff set up a movie room, Morrow said. Staff boiled coffee the old fashioned way, on a stovetop.
“If you can set them up for the day with a fresh cup of coffee and a newspaper, they’re happy,” she said.