The wildfires burning swaths of land across Southern California have prompted some skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to move their residents and staffers out of harm’s way.
High winds on Thursday fueled a massive fire that charred nearly 100,000 acres in Ventura County, according to the Los Angeles Times. As the blaze raged on, it blew across the 101 freeway, which is an important commuter artery north of the city. Photos circulating on social media Thursday showed billowing smoke and burning hillsides near the highway.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) December 7, 2017
Authorities had ordered roughly 200,000 people in the area to evacuate their homes as of Thursday afternoon, reported the New York Times. At least two SNFs were also ordered to evacuate as a result of the fire, according to the California Department of Public Health.
A representative for one of the SNFs ordered to evacuate told Skilled Nursing News they vacated the building for about six hours Wednesday before returning. A representative for another facility said they were still awaiting the all-clear when reached Thursday afternoon.
A handful of nursing homes throughout the area weren’t ordered out entirely, but were told to shelter in place, partially evacuate or stay alert for possible evacuation orders instead. Others—like the Ojai Valley Community Hospital, a 91-bed, non-profit acute care hospital and skilled nursing facility in Ojai, California—voluntarily chose to evacuate.
“At midnight last night, CMHS made the decision to transfer the majority of our patients at Ojai Valley Community Hospital and our adjacent skilled nursing facility,” the SNF’s parent organization, Community Memorial Health System, wrote in an update on its website. “Although the fire never directly affected OVCH, the fire department advised us that the situation in the Ojai Valley was very fluid and that if the winds shifted or increased, our facilities could be impacted.”
Residents of the state—including SNFs—might have to accept such fires as the new normal as the world’s climate changes, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain told NPR.
“It’s starting to appear that the likelihood of seeing these sorts of events is increasing,” he said.
This week’s fire, and the one that tore through Northern California in October, have served as a grim reminder that skilled nursing providers in the state should have their disaster preparedness plans ready, according to Deborah Pacyna, director public affairs for the California Association of Health Facilities (CAHF).
“It appears there a number of SNFs in various stages of response, from full evacuation, to partial evacuation, to re-populating following an evacuation,” Pacyna told SNN on Thursday. “The fires are clearly a wake-up call regarding the need to be vigilant about disaster preparedness.”
Because of the nature of the terrain and the history of fires in the area, the counties of Ventura and Los Angeles have been proactive in working with CAHF’s members to educate them about disaster protocols and procedures, Pacyna added.
Written by Tim Regan