As Covid-19 cases in San Francisco jump by the dozens each day — although nothing like the wrenching scenes from New York City — people in rural Mendocino County 120 miles north wait fearfully to see if the fragile local health care system can survive a Covid surge.
Three hospitals serve Mendocino County. Adventist Health owns the ones in Ukiah and Willits and in May it will take over the Fort Bragg hospital. The County's Public Health Officer, Dr. Noemi Doohan, has directed the public response, but if a Covid surge hits here it will be the Adventist’s facilities treating patients.
Jason Wells is president of Adventist Health’s Ukiah and Willits facilities and the most visible negotiator for the Adventists’ effort to take over managing Mendocino Coast Hospital.
Last Monday, Wells said that under any of the scenarios being reasonably considered now, Mendocino County will have what it needs.
The hospitals in Ukiah and Fort Bragg are setting up triage tents and Coast Hospital has arranged extra space to go beyond its 25 beds if needed, Wells said.
Ventilators and N-95 protective masks have been the focus of concern everywhere. Wells said that the Adventists’ 21-hospital system has enough resources to shift where they are needed.
"We are going to have to shepherd what we have for certain," he said. "But I know we will be supplied through whatever type of surge happens."
That includes Mendocino Coast District Hospital which Adventist doesn't take over management of officially until May, said Wells. District voters approved that agreement with a tsunami-like 93.1% in March.
"They are part of the family now," Wells said, and they will have access to Adventists supply of vital equipment and personnel.
Wells praised Dr. Doohan, Mendocino County's Public Health Officer, for her forward-looking orders to shelter in place. And while numbers are still tentative, he said, Northern California's quick response might be saving lives and sparing rural California the worst.
As of Tuesday, Sonoma County had 55 cases, Humboldt County 18; Del Norte, Trinity and Lake counties report no confirmed cases.
Wells said Adventist Health as California's largest rural health care provider is uniquely positioned to meet the pandemic. The organization’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Hoda Asmar, is a specialist in infectious disease control. Because of her focus, he said, "we were much quicker to accept the need to get things right."
Adventist Health’s CEO, Scott Reiner, is incoming president of the California Hospital Association and has worked closely with the governor's office and the governor himself, Wells said. The CHA should be an influential voice in this crucial year for health care policy.
Wells said Adventists and its rural clients "will legitimately have a seat at the table."
For the immediate future, he added, "Adventist is pretty well prepared and we are all in this together."