The Kern Valley Healthcare District reopened its rural health clinic and retail pharmacy in Mountain Mesa Monday, three days after they were closed amid the chaos of the Erskine Fire, but its hospital and skilled nursing facility were not expected to resume operation until Friday at the earliest, pending water quality tests.
The Kern County Fire Department said the health clinic was functioning temporarily as an urgent care facility. It and the pharmacy lost power during the fire but were able to resume operation because of power generators brought in by Southern California Edison.
Although the hospital and skilled nursing facility were able to avoid evacuations soon after the fire broke out Thursday, thanks to shifting winds and in-house power generation, District CEO Tim McGlew said a decision was made to close the next day out of concern that contamination from a water service interruption could pose a threat to patients.
The hospital had enough bottled water to get through the crisis, he said, but county public health officials recommended evacuations because “they didn’t feel we could rely on the pressurized water that was there at the time.”
The final decision to close the Lake Isabella area’s only acute-care hospital was made by the healthcare district, he said.
“That’s not an easy decision to make,” he added. “It was a decision we made in the best interest of patients.”
County and state public health officials in Bakersfield could not be reached for comment Monday.
McGlew said 10 acute-care patients and 69 skilled nursing facility residents were evacuated Friday. Twenty patients were sent to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, six to Delano Regional Medical Center, 10 to Rosewood Retirement Community in Bakersfield, two or three to San Joaquin Community, three to Ridgecrest Regional and two to Mercy Downtown, he said. The rest were distributed among Bakersfield skilled nursing facilities or, in the case of acute-care patients, released.
Many of those patients may be returned to Kern Valley Hospital, McGlew said, but not until the facility has been re-certified by the state. That would require consecutive tests showing the facility’s water meets government standards, a process that will likely take until Friday.
“Once the state is confident that we’ve got power, and we’ve got clean water, (state officials) have indicated they’d work with us to get patients back,” he said.
The district’s facilities are usually staffed by 220 people, many of whom have been reassigned to the area’s two evacuation centers, McGlew said, adding four or five employees may have lost their homes to the fire.
“We have not heard from everybody yet,” he said.