Wildfires make Napa County aware of our shared vulnerability

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Opinion

Alicia Hardy is CEO of OLE Health, a community health care organization based in Napa.


This is part of a report Oct. 8 on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.

A year ago at this time, I — like thousands of my neighbors — did not know if I would still have a home to return to.

I didn’t know if our health centers in Napa and Solano counties would survive; if the patients we serve were safe and would still be able to access care. To think or plan even a few hours ahead was a challenge.

I remember the eerie color of a dark and hazy sky, the silence in the town of Napa as most businesses were closed and power was out.

I remember the constant burning feeling in my throat and dull headache that came equally from inhaling ash and exhaustion.

I also remember feeling inspired and proud of my staff, my community partners, leaders and individuals who stepped up and did whatever was needed to keep each other safe.

OLE Health provides primary care for 35,000 patients. We have nine sites across Napa and Solano counties, stretching from Calistoga all the way to South Napa and Fairfield.

Our patients live in American Canyon, Vallejo, Fairfield, Napa, St. Helena and Calistoga. When there is a disaster, OLE Health is a key player in the network of emergency responders and our community looks to us for guidance, resources, and access to physical and mental health services.

One year later the fear and uncertainty from the wildfires are gone, but the feelings of pride and inspiration remain.

There is something about living through, and rebuilding from, a natural disaster that brings people together in a profound way.

We can all remember those days last year where our anxiety level hinged on fire-containment updates. And we all supported each other through it, shared our resources and gave generously.

Our health care communities have always been collaborative and supportive. Since the fires, there is an added awareness of our shared vulnerability. It goes largely unspoken, but there is an undercurrent in our conversations — a recognition that we are all vulnerable, that last year’s fires may not be the last, that we all need each other in a way that perhaps we didn’t fully appreciate before October of last year.

This shared vulnerability creates a sense of deeper connection and generosity in our community.

During the fires we all shared resources — whatever we had, to help. OLE Health sent medical providers and volunteers to evacuation centers to help people get medications that were left behind when they fled their homes.

A local bus company donated its buses and drivers to help transport patients to our health centers who needed care for respiratory issues. Community members donated socks, blankets, toothpaste and other living essentials for neighbors in need.

And people donated money. A lot of money.

In the months after the fires, there were shared grant applications to support the increased need for mental health services; there were donations to help rebuild homes and facilities; there were emergency funds available to help OLE Health continue to provide high-quality services despite the disruption of having to temporarily close some of our sites.

The generosity of so many to support those of us affected by the fires was humbling and overwhelming. On behalf of OLE Health, I remain grateful for this response.

Gratitude has a way of opening people to each other. I feel this openness still, especially as the fires forced all of us to redefine and think about community on a regional level. We all have our county lines that determine funding, budgets, reimbursements from our health plans, and fires do not pay attention to these artificial borders.

As our families and workforce have shifted geographically — some leaving the area permanently, some relocating to different counties, we have all had to rethink our definition of community.

A broader definition means different and larger planning efforts. It means sharing resources differently. It means coming together and advocating for new legislation at the state level that allows health centers like OLE to bill for services in different and more flexible ways when disaster strikes.

Our fires happened one year ago. But other communities north and south of us have had to live this nightmare even more recently.

And certainly, we are not immune from this happening again. All we can do is prepare — better, together and with a broader lens.

Professionally, I am grateful for the deeper connections, the trust and the support.

Personally, I take the time to hug my kids a little tighter, to appreciate all that I have, and to take time to notice the beauty of a clear blue sky.

Opinion

Alicia Hardy is CEO of OLE Health, a community health care organization based in Napa.


This is part of a report Oct. 8 on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.

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