In Northern California, Leaders at One FQHC Leveraged Technology to Help a Community in Crisis | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

In Northern California, Leaders at One FQHC Leveraged Technology to Help a Community in Crisis

June 4, 2018
by Heather Landi
| Reprints
Click To View Gallery

In early October 2017, wildfires ravaged Northern California communities, destroying homes and businesses, displacing residents and resulted in the deaths of at least 43 people. All told, the October wildfires burned more than 245,000 acres in Northern California and forced 20,000 people to evacuate.

According to local news reports, on Oct. 8 and into Oct. 9, small fires fueled by extreme winds merged into six massive fires, with the biggest fires in Sonoma and Napa counties. The most deadly and destructive of the fires was the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, and it took 23 days before the wildfires were contained. During the wildfires, two out of three hospitals in Santa Rosa, as well as many other medical facilities, were forced to evacuate patients and could not resume medical services.

A building destroyed in Sonoma County

Just 17 miles south of Santa Rosa, Petaluma Health Center, a federally qualified health center (FQHC), remained open and served as a safe haven for the local community, providing ongoing medical services to those in need. Leveraging a number of technology tools, Petaluma Health Center providers were able to quickly and effectively communicate with patients during the crisis and provide quality patient care, even to evacuees housed at a dozen local shelters, throughout the disaster.

“It was a Sunday night when the fires began, coming across from Calistoga over the mountains to Santa Rosa, and in the middle of the night people were started to be evacuated and the fires were quickly approaching two of the three major hospitals in Santa Rosa. So, even from the middle of the night, we knew there would be a big impact in terms of people being able to access care,” says Danielle Oryn, D.O., chief medical informatics officer at Petaluma Health Center, and a family physician.

Petaluma Health Center provides health care services to 35,000 patients in Sonoma County each year and was a recipient of the 2017 Community Health HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society) Davies Award for its use of electronic health record (EHR) analytics to improve health outcomes.

“As a FQHC, we do have a focus on serving the underserved and we focus on serving the entire community. About half of our patients are non-English speakers, and a good percentage of our patients are at the 200 percent of federal poverty level or below. So, we’re a typical community health center, and we have two big sites, one in Petaluma and another one in Rohnert Park and smaller sites, one at a homeless shelter and a couple of school-based health centers,” she says.

Oryn and her team of physicians knew that there would be both short-term and long-term healthcare needs as a result of the wildfires and the resulting smoke. From asthma and hypertension to the straining of evacuating and rebuilding, thousands needed medical and psychological help.

“With two hospitals being closed and much of the outpatient care in Santa Rosa, including Kaiser and many of the health centers and private offices, being closed, people would need healthcare, whether they needed refills because they were evacuated from their homes and didn’t get to bring everything that they needed, or simply because of the heavy smoke in the air,” Oryn says.

While the Rohnert Park site had to close for two days, the Petaluma site remained open to provide outpatient care. “We were ready to receive patients, but we needed to get the word out to the community that we were here, we were open,” she says, crediting many of the features and tools within the health center’s eClincalWorks EHR system with facilitating effective communication. Using a tool within the EHR, Petaluma Health Center staff were able to send out messages to 50,000 patients in its database with a message informing them that the health center was open and capable of providing medical care.

“What we noticed after that is that people were posting on social media, saying, ‘I just got a text message from Petaluma Health Center, they’re open, if anybody needs care, go there.’ So it had a ripple effect, which was really important to our community, to be able to get the word out that we have staff and are able to take care of patients,” she says.

Danielle Oryn, D.O.

The health center’s waiting room soon filled up, mostly with patients in need of medication refills. Armed with iPads, providers went out to the waiting room and utilized a feature within the eClinicalWorks EHR to refill prescriptions on the spot.

“As a direct effect of the fire, we saw a lot of people with exacerbation of asthma, respiratory complaints, irritation from smoke in way or another. We also saw a lot of people who were temporarily, or even potentially permanently, displaced from their homes, and they had to leave their houses in a hurry and didn’t take much with them. So, we saw a lot of people who simply needed medication refills and to be reconnected to some kind of primary care for a temporary time period,” Oryn says.

Petaluma Health Center clinicians also leveraged a local health information exchange (HIE) operated by the Redwood Community Health Coalition to access patients’ health records from other health centers. The RCHC’s Redwood Community HIE is a private query-based HIE hub that facilitates health center access to data sharing. Currently, eight RCHC health centers populate records into RCHIE, which contains close to 200,000 continuity of care records.

Pages

Get the latest information on Health IT and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day Summit providing healthcare leaders with educational content, insightful debate and dialogue on the future of healthcare and technology.

Learn More

RELATED INSIGHTS FOR:
Topics