Health Care Conference tackles resilience, moving forward after the fires

The Business Journal held its 19th annual Health Care Conference on July 31, bringing out more than 175 area professionals for presentations about mental health issues stemming from October’s wildfires.

Clinicians, corporate executives, and nonprofit and governmental leaders addressed their ongoing efforts, along with the impending first-year anniversary of the fires.

“I know the county and city have been working with our ad hoc committee about what we can do to really honor and remember people, and be really cognizant of the fact that everybody’s in a different place right now,” said Shirlee Zane, District 3 Sonoma County supervisor. “A lot of fire survivors feel very angry … some are feeling hopeful, some are sad or depressed, and some are not sure if they’re going to rebuild. All of those (feelings) can be expected, so we want to be very respectful of where people are at right now.”

Zane, whose professional background also includes family therapy, noted that contrary to common belief that grief has set stages, in actuality there is no timeline for healing. Rather, it depends on the individual, so tackling the anniversary of the fires is a delicate matter.

“This is something we have to think carefully about,” said panelist Hamish Gray, senior vice president of Keysight Technologies in Petaluma. Among the damages and losses sustained, he said the company’s property also lost “hundreds and hundreds” of trees, and that more are still being removed for safety reasons – a sight that is difficult for the employees to endure looking at from day to day. “We’re thinking (about) planting trees or some type of rebuilding of hope.”

Medtronic also is looking at acknowledging the one-year mark of the wildfires with some outdoors efforts at its Fountaingrove facility, which sustained $6 million in damages and lost all of its landscaping, said Deborah Yount, vice president, human resources, cardiac and vascular divisions. “We are planning on doing all of our landscaping to memorialize the event, and also ensure that we focus on kindness to honor our community and our employees,” she said. “Our employees showed (kindness) to each other and were selfless in bringing our facilities back.”

Debbie Mason, CEO of Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County, spoke about the Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative and its work on treating the mental health needs of the community post-fires. The collaborative will launch an extended media campaign beginning next month. The first phase will run through February.

“That gets us through the anniversary, when people will start to lift their heads, if they aren’t already, and gets us through the holidays,” Mason said, adding the campaign will then take a brief pause before restarting. “We’re budgeted to reintroduce that campaign - in probably a slightly tweaked way - next year to take us through the second anniversary and the second set of holidays, because the bulk of data shows that people aren’t really going to seek help until the nine-month to 2-year period.”

Naomi Fuchs, CEO of Santa Rosa Community Health, discussed the Sonoma Community Resilience Collaborative, a multiyear program designed to provide people with the needed tools for self-care after experiencing trauma. The program, which began in July, will train hundreds of people over the course of three years to become facilitators. Facilitators do not need to be medical professionals, rather people with a desire and interest in helping others. After completing training, the facilitators will have the knowledge and skills to lead workshops in their community.

Also at the conference, three panelists spoke about retaining and attracting health care professionals. Dr. Trish Hiserote is director for Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program. An inaugural class of six residents - one was in attendance at the health care conference - are focusing on becoming primary care physicians, an area of medicine that has experienced a national shortage for the last 25 years, Hiserote said.

“Santa Rosa has a strong history of family medicine, so attracting to this region is really, truly a gift,” Hiserote said, adding that studies show residents tend to stay where they train. “Our next generation of physicians are very aware of the health care practices and the economy of medicine, and so they’re having those conversations during marketing events. It’s exciting and reassuring for me and my colleagues because one day they will be taking care of us.”

Also participating were Dr. Richard Riemer, senior associate dean, professor of neurology, Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine-California; and Wendy Young, executive director of the Sonoma County Medical Association.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

Show Comment

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette