In the Media

West County Health Services grapples with physical, mental toll of Guerneville flood

March 15, 2019 – in Press Democrat by Alexandria Bordas

Now that the floodwaters have receded, a new challenge faces one of the largest providers of health care services along the Russian River.
West County Health Centers, which operates clinics in Guerneville, Occidental, Sebastopol and Forestville, is helping its patients recover from the physical and mental toll left by the region’s worst flood in two decades.
The clinic in Guerneville suffered $200,000 in missed appointments, a damaged furnace and cleanup costs, said Jennifer Neeley, associate director of development for West County Health Centers. The nonprofit has been operating in the county for over 40 years, offering services to everyone regardless of medical coverage.
Although the clinic was without power for several days during the storm, it has since reopened and is seeing patients, Neeley said.
“People have been really responsive to our efforts to keep supporting flood victims and our cleanup efforts,” she said.

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Sonoma County Declares Health Emergency Due to Hazardous Waste Left After Flood

March 5, 2019 – in Press Democrat by Julie Johnson

GUERNEVILLE — Parting her patient’s blonde hair in an exam room Tuesday, Dr. DeEtte DeVille took a closer look at a bruise incurred when Colette Bias tripped and fell into waist-deep water during last week’s flood, hitting her head on a tree branch.
“I don’t see any broken skin, did you notice blood?” asked DeVille, medical director of Russian River Health Center in Guerneville.
“No, just a really bad headache,” said Bias, 50, of Monte Rio, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
DeVille ordered medications for Bias to pick up at the pharmacy — she’d lost a bag with some belongings when she fell — including an ointment for a rash she’d developed on her face and legs.
When the Russian River flooded its banks last week, its fast-moving murky waters created a potential health hazard for people trying to get out of the area or, like Bias, seek supplies such as fuel and food. The floodwaters receded Friday after thoroughly tossing the contents of thousands of garages, RVs, vehicles, businesses and homes in the towns along the river, and leaving behind a mixture of sewage, gasoline, chemicals and mud.
Most just call it the “flood crud.”

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Huge cleanup awaits along Russian River as high toll of flooding emerges

March 1, 2019 – in Press Democrat by Julie Johnson

GUERNEVILLE — Russian River floodwaters receded from all but the lowest-lying areas Friday, pulling the river’s watery curtain out of homes and away from most surface streets, giving residents and merchants a clearer look at the extensive damage and sprawling cleanup to come.
Norma Pichardo, 38, climbed the mud-slickened spiral staircase leading to her family’s second-floor apartment on Sycamore Court. Across the courtyard, the torrent of runoff seemed to have moved through the first floor garage of Fife Creek Commons without causing major damage. Not so among about a half-dozen nearby homes like hers clustered on lower land.
 
Pichardo unlocked the door and found her home of 10 years upended, belongings tossed about as if by intruders. A shelf lay on its side in the middle of the kitchen. Chairs were toppled, soaked clothes were everywhere. All that stood or sat below waist level was covered in a film of mud.
 
Pichardo took a garbage bag out of her pocket and began filling it with pictures hanging on the wall: One child’s soccer team portrait; another’s Guerneville School class picture; smiling faces of her three kids in homemade Christmas frames.
“It’s their home,” Pichardo said, full of emotion.
 
The Russian River dropped below the 32-foot flood level after 11 a.m. Friday, making roads that had become waterways passable again. Authorities lifted roadblocks for residents and business people just after noon, and for the first time in days people who evacuated, as well as those who rode out the storm in their houses, surveyed communities that had not seen this scale of disaster in a quarter century.

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West county doctor recognized for work with homeless

November 28, 2018 – in Sonoma West by E.I. Hillin

On a typical workday in Guerneville, family doctor Jared Garrison-Jakel attends to patients who are often dealing with more than just an ailment medicine can cure. His patients at the Russian River Health Center include those who do not have a permanent home, are struggling with substance abuse or living with some other mental health disorder — all of which make scheduling a doctor’s appointment a difficult or even impossible task.

“If you don’t know where you are sleeping tonight, making an appointment two or three weeks in advance doesn’t work,” he said. “We need immediacy.”

With this challenge in mind, Garrison-Jakel, of Forestville, implemented a new model for West County Health Centers (WCHC) to see un-housed patients on the same day they schedule the appointment. The new system has proven to be a success, serving on average five un-housed patients a day.

“It’s always been my goal as a family doctor to meet the needs of the community,” Garrison-Jakel said.

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Personal recovery after a traumatic event

December 29, 2017 – in Press Democrat - Rebuild North Bay Special Section by Marian Pena, LCSW, WCHC Director of Behavioral Health Services

Resiliency is defined as the ability to overcome and bounce back from challenges of all kinds- traumatic events, tragedy, loss, personal crises and regular life problems. 

The October North Bay fires and their aftermath present many challenges to the residents of Sonoma County, including how to be resilient in the face of so much widespread devastation.

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After Wine Country fires, victims confront emotional ruins: ‘We have a long way to go’

December 16, 2017 – in San Francisco Chronicle by Lizzie Johnson

Private health networks, like West County Health Centers, have also seen an increase in cases of depression and anxiety and other chronic illnesses, officials said.  The issues have been exacerbated by how far from normal many victims lives have veered.  Many have seen their churches, jobs, and children's school - thier daily rhythms - disrupted.

"People are more susceptible to trauma because they don't have their normal community support," said Jason Dunningham, medical director of West County Health Centers, which provides services from several locations.  "Initially we had this community coming together, and it was actually life-giving.  They were supporting one another.  We aren't putting the same attention on those feelings as we did the first two weeks."

Cunningham said his staff compared state maps of fire damage to maps of where existing patients live, in order to locate high-risk victims who might need extra support.  Health workers called those people in the weeks after the fires to check in and offer resources, everything from help with FEMA applications to therapy referrals.

"We know these people," Cunningham said.  "We want to hear how they're doing and hear their story.  It's a familiar voice to connect with.  That social support is important so they don't try to self-medicate with things like alcohol."

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How to talk to kids about fires and earthquakes, before and after they happen

October 27, 2017 – in Los Angeles Times by Sonali Kohli

It’s important to check in with kids even if they’re not asking questions, said Marian Pena, the behavioral health director at West County Health Centers in Sonoma County, where recent fires destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 20 people. Some children will develop anxiety because they’re stressed and don’t have an outlet for that stress.

“A lot of parents feel like if they don’t ever talk to their kids about this, it’s out of sight out of mind,” she said.

But that’s not true. Children are thinking about what’s happening around them, whether or not they ask their parents about it. And it’s important for parents to provide the most accurate information, and reassure children that they are safe.

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Wildfires stressed wine country's healthcare system, creating a crisis and a warning for future

October 18, 2017 – in Los Angeles Times by Soumya Karlamangla

The aftermath of the fire presented countless challenges for the rest of the healthcare system.

Many residents struggled to breathe because of the smoky air.  Tens of thousands of people were evacuated into schools and fairgrounds across the region.

“Each shelter had to figure out how do you manage these almost MASH-unit trauma centers,” said Jason Cunningham, chief medical officer for the West County Health Centers.

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Sonoma Spotlight - Rebuilding the Russian River Health Center

September 14, 2017 – in KRCB by Roland Jacopetti

Mary Szecsey Cheif Executive Officer for West County Health Centers, talks with Roland Jacopetti on KRCB's Sonoma Spotlight about the Capital Campaign to rebuild the new Russian River Health & Wellness Center.

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$1.8M raised to rebuild Russian River Health Center in west Sonoma County

August 22, 2017 – in North Bay Business Journal by Cynthia Sweeney

 West County Health Centers (WCHC) has raised $1.84 million towards a goal of $4.2 million for a new Russian River Health Center.

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