Hospital shoulders the load as two others in Santa Rosa close
SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Debora Villalon) - Two of Santa Rosa's main hospitals remain closed, and a third has been shouldering the load since the Tubbs Fire swept into town.
Memorial Hospital sees about 700 patients in an average week.
Over the past week, the number zoomed to 1200, including an estimated 400 with smoke inhalation complaints.
"There were a lot of patients in the halls that night, and we had five major burn victims in the first four hours," recalled Emergency Director Dr. Brian Schmidt.
Those burn patients were transported to specialized burn centers.
Schmidt said burn cases might have tripled, had the early rescues not been so aggressive.
"The firefighters were saving twenty to thirty victims per truck in the first couple hours," he explained.
Santa Rosa Memorial is the largest trauma center in three counties, so administrators say it is especially capable in a regional emergency.
Memorial evaluated 60 patients in the first 24 hours after the fire.
Most were moderate injuries, including falls and vehicle accidents in the panicked evacuations.
The patient who remains in the most serious condition is a 59 year old man with a broken neck and paralysis.
His brother told KTVU that the man was fleeing his Bennett Valley neighborhood on his motorcycle, when he was hit by a fire engine.
"Because he couldn't see and here comes the fire truck, blinded by smoke too," explained Tim Ingram, outside the hospital. "It ran him right over and now he's in ICU and not looking good at all."
Surveillance video from Sutter Hospital, on the north end of town, shows how patients were hurriedly evacuated as fire approached.
Both Sutter and Santa Rosa's Kaiser Hospital, were threatened and remain closed.
For some expectant mothers who went into labor during the fire, the crisis meant a change of destination.
"We're going to tell her she was a little fire baby, " Edgar Contreras told KTVU, gazing at his newborn daughter Eiliana, who was born at Petaluma Valley Hospital, instead of at Sutter as planned.
"I realized she's coming, she's coming and I was freaking out," admitted Eliliana's mom Jasmin Hernandez," because with all these fires happening, I'm thinking what's next, how long am I going to be here, and is this place going to catch on fire?"
Another mom who was scheduled to deliver at Sutter, went into labor early and ended up at Memorial, which was crowded with laboring moms and newborns.
"I just tried to stay focused on what was happening, and that we were going to bring a new baby home," recounted Chelsie Jolley, who gave birth to daughter Raylee.
"But it was definitely on my mind, wondering 'will I have a house to bring her home to?'".
The Jolley home was undamaged by the fire.
"She'll definitely have a birth story for sure," smiled Raylee's father Morgan, "and it will always be a reminder of what was going on, and what the community was going through at the same time."
Since the night of the fire, 36 babies have been born at Memorial Hospital, with another 14 at Petaluma Valley Hospital.
"The fact that we get to deliver more babies is what we want to do," exclaimed Ricci Ros, Director of Women's and Children's Health at Memorial.
"We want to help," continued Ros, "to make sure it's the best day of their life no matter what's happening outside of these hospital doors."
At Memorial, more than 100 doctors and caregivers lost their homes in the fire, including telemetry nurse Cambria Reese, 25.
"There was a patient who lost his home, so I told him I could relate, " said Reese wryly.
The night of the fire, as her parent's home in Mark West Springs burned, Reese was at the hospital working, but was able to check in with her mom and dad and knew they were safe.
She was stoic about the loss, she says, until another patient expressed sympathy.
"Then I broke down in front of him and cried, " Reese admitted, "and ran away saying 'be right back,' but the patient was so sweet and so understanding."
Memorial, along with Petaluma Valley and Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, are all part of the Saint Joseph's Healthcare System, and administrators say they are helping all fire-stricken employees financially with housing needs so they have stability.
"I think it's healthy to come to work," said Dr. Schmidt, "because it takes your mind off things and it's purposeful, plus we have a tight team here."