The Press Democrat – October 16, 2017

For the first time since the firestorm broke out last week, about 200 Kaiser Permanente employees arrived for work Monday morning as the health care giant’s two main medical office buildings in Santa Rosa reopened next to its still shuttered hospital on Bicentennial Way.

Just before the 9 a.m. opening, physicians, nurses, medical assistants and technicians were greeted by choral singers as they congregated in the lobby of Medical Office Building 1 in a reunion that was at once solemn, tearful and joyful.

More than 100 Kaiser employees, including doctors and nurses, lost their homes in last week’s devastating Tubbs fire. Throughout the week Kaiser staff worked at other Kaiser locations in Rohnert Park and San Rafael and many worked at local evacuation centers throughout the county.

All seemed eager to get back to work.

“It’s good. It feels good to be back in my regular building,” said Dr. Kelly Bastoni, a family doctor who works in MOB 1. “There’s something about it having been so close to the fire but having survived. It feels like a resilient place.”

Bastoni said she’s been hosting Kaiser co-workers and friends at her home in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood.

Before opening the doors to patients, Kaiser’s Spiritual Care Services department set up three small tables with glass pitchers of water and a large bowl — “blessing stations” — where water was poured onto the hands of medical staff. A prayer was recited, starting, “May the work of your hands be blessed…”

“This is to have them reconnect with what they love to do, their vocation,” said Michael Cobbina, a Kaiser chaplain.

The reopening came as Kaiser’s hospital remains closed, with no slated date for reopening. Just up the road, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital announced plans that it will reopen Tuesday at 7 a.m. It will offer full inpatient and emergency care services. Elective procedures will resume at a later date.

Stephen Buehler, a marriage and family therapist who works for Kaiser’s employee and physician assistance program, emphasized the magnitude of the tragedy that staff, patients and the entire community were experiencing. He said the opening of Kaiser’s medical offices allows staff, many affected directly, to focus on their work as healers.

“It’s acute humanity,” Buehler said. “It’s a potent moment of human capability and challenge.”

Carmen Myers, 71, of Cloverdale, was able to get an appointment Monday morning for treatment of an autoimmune disease known as Sjögren’s syndrome. Her husband, Brad Myers, 71, applauded Kaiser’s staff work and drive through the disaster.

“They have been very generous and supportive of their staff who lost their homes or are evacuated,” he said. “For us personally, it means Carmen got the care she needed.”

For Susan Tomsen, 69, the visit offered a little bit of reassurance during a time of unimaginable sorrow. Tomsen and her husband lost their home on Hemlock Street in the Coffey Park neighborhood. The couple lost everything and were barely able to flee the firestorm around 2 a.m. Monday morning.

Tomsen said she had been feeling a numbness in her left hand and was afraid it was heart related. It wasn’t. She said she was able to get an appointment fairly quickly.

This article originally appeared in The Press Democrat