It’s been just over a month since wildfires scorched more than one million acres of Northern California’s wine country, destroying almost 9000 homes, killing 43 people, and changing the lives of its residents forever.
But if there’s anything to learn from the tragedy of California’s deadliest fire, it’s the value of facing adversity. You cry. You feel scared. You do what’s needed to protect those you love. And, when the coast is clear, you return and rebuild. “Nearly everyone has a story of loss, or one once removed,” says Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Comiskey. “The devastation is almost incalculable in its long-term impact. But one thing that’s sure is that the residents of Sonoma and Napa counties are ready to rebuild and move on.”
But, that’s the nature of the people who continue to call this area home. This tenacity to face hardships and come back stronger rings true now as it did during the tense moments of evacuation when nearly 100,000 residents were displaced. A local business (one of many in the area) decided to open their doors and offer help to anyone they could reach.
Generations Healthcare believes in sustaining a family-like tradition. It’s a philosophy that extends this nurturing and protective connection to the staff and their patients. And, when the threats of the California fires grew closer, the desire to reach out to others in trouble was a natural response for the Generations’ staff.
Sonoma and Napa counties were both within the zones of evacuation, with four skilled nursing facilities and two acute hospitals full of patients. Generations staff knew that such patients couldn’t go to the same shelters or homes as other evacuees: their needs were too specific, too demanding. Every patient needed specialized attention that only medical professionals give—and most of those workers already had their hands full at medical tents treating the thousands of other evacuees. Many patients were first taken to evacuation centers, only to face the harsh reality that their intended refuge didn’t have the supplies, food, or medication they needed.
Faced with an urgent need, the staff of Generations Healthcare’s six local facilities—Smith Ranch, Tunnell, Lawton, Bayberry, Walnut Creek, and Pleasanton—rolled up their sleeves, opened their doors, and welcomed displaced patients with beds, staff, and care. “These residents came to us frightened and unsure,” said Edwin Cabigao, Generations’ director of clinical services in their Northern Region. “It was very fulfilling to see everyone coming together in a very bad situation and seeing the residents reassured and comforted.”
Smith Ranch, a Generations facility in San Rafael, coordinated with a local evacuation center to collect patients. Within two hours of establishing contact, Generations was placing patients with beds, meals, water, and care, all removed from the smoke-filled air.
Lawton, a facility in San Francisco, only has 61 beds but still made room for 15 patients. “We just banded together,” said Dan Daly, Lawton’s administrator. “We knew that we were here to help. It just seemed like the natural thing to do.” When the fire started on Sunday, October 8, Daly and his team worked past midnight for two days preparing their facility to receive evacuees. When people arrived, the staff, scheduled or not, continued to work, staying up till 2 AM to assist the patients and work with the original facilities to ensure each patient’s medications and records were in order.
Generations’ Tunnell Center, located in San Francisco, took in about 70 patients. In Generations Walnut Creek facility, the response was similar. “The night of the fire, we got a call from medical service at 3 a.m.,” said Dorothy Couto, administrator of the Walnut Creek facility. “We received four patients the first day and seven more the next day from the VA hospital. I was worried things would get out of control, but our team handled it very well. I was very proud.” When the threat of fire subsided, a total of 150 displaced residents had found a loving hand offering care and refuge in a Generations facility.
Despite the scarred landscape, local merchants are anxiously rebuilding. They are a living example to the rest of the country that they are still here, and the area remains a favored destination for the wine enthusiasts and nature lovers. “We need to do our part to help the recovery,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California. “If you’re planning a trip, don’t cancel—wine country residents need your business now more than ever.”
As for the Generations staff, it’s business as usual. But, this experience proved that small efforts can make a big impact when you work together and face adversity as a team.