How do you fit a lifetime of memories into one backpack? For the nearly 100,000 California residents displaced during the California wine country fires that scorched over one million acres, destroying almost 9000 homes and killing 43 people this past October, the need to rebuild a life that (literally) went up in flames begins with an extended hand of kindness.
Faced with an urgent need, the staff of Generations Healthcare’s six 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. 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. “It was very fulfilling to see everyone coming together in a very bad situation and seeing the residents reassured and comforted,” said Edwin Cabigao, director of clinical services for Generations’ northern region.
When they recognized the urgency of a worsening situation, Generations staff set out to find patients in need and give them the care they needed. 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.
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. Fortunately, the needed care was immediately available. For instance, 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, evacuees who didn’t arrive until Wednesday. Staff, scheduled or not, continued to work, staying up till 2 AM to assist the patients, working 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.“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 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 so proud of this team.”
Now, having survived California’s deadliest fire, thousands of residents face the difficult process of rebuilding amid tremendous emotional and material loss. As for the 150 evacuees who found shelter during a time of uncertainty and fear, their courageous example will not be forgotten by the Generations staff. Hopefully, the memory of the kindness of strangers and the power of perseverance may offer comfort as they move forward.