Julayne Smithson, RN, could save only her nursing papers and some scrubs from her burning home located behind Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa. Then she went back to work.
If you are an Intensive Care Unit patient under the care of Julayne Smithson, RN, you are in the very best hands.
In the wee hours of Monday, Oct. 9, the 35-year veteran nurse was monitoring a patient under multiple medications in Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa’s ICU. She knew there was smoke somewhere outside, but was too engrossed in her patient’s care to investigate.
Then one of her co-workers gently put an arm around her and said, “Julayne, I’m sorry, but your house is not going to make it.”
Smithson, who lived in the mobile home park behind the medical center, was “shocked.”
“I looked out the window and saw my home was going to burn because the whole park was engulfed in flames. I asked another nurse to watch my patient, and then I ran.”
Smoke Alarms Rang from Every Unit
Smithson drove across the road to the mobile home park. Half of the buildings were already on fire and gas meters were exploding.
Inside her home, she used her iPhone flashlight to crawl through smoke.
But what do you take when you only have minutes?
“I’m a long-time travel nurse licensed in 15 states,” Smithson said. “I thought that if I was going to lose everything, at least I would be able to work. I got those nursing documents and one pair of scrubs. There were other things I wanted — cash and my shoe orthotics — but there just wasn’t time. And I had to get back to my patient.”
The fire was hot and fast. Smithson drove back to work.
They Didn’t Know Where — But They Were Going Somewhere…
Back with her patient, Smithson soon got another shock when the Hospital Command Center ordered the evacuation of the medical center.
Outside of Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, smoke and embers filled the air as physicians and employees grabbed ambulances, city buses, and their own cars to evacuate patients to Sutter and Memorial hospitals.
The most ill patients were put in ambulances, so that is where Smithson, her ICU patients, and colleague Cindy Danner, RN, wound up.
“The patient was 6-foot-3 and didn’t fit on the ambulance gurney properly,” Smithson said. “We had 6 medication pumps going and had to tilt the IV pole. But we made it to Memorial and its ICU.”
Smithson works at Kaiser Permanente and at Memorial, so she was greeted by colleagues there. She and Danner handed off the patient and ran outside to find a ride back to Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa so they could help continue evacuating patients. A 9-1-1 ambulance took them as far as it could get, and then they walked.
The medical center was nearly empty when they arrived. So Smithson participated in a hospital de-briefing. She had worked through the day and night, and now had nowhere to go.
She Moved 4 Times in 3 Weeks
“I didn’t have a home and I don’t have family here, so when a text went out asking for nurses to come to San Rafael, I went,” Smithson said.
She stayed at the home of Kaiser Permanente San Rafael ICU nurse manager, Mary Knox, RN, and worked at the unit, where she was reunited with her Santa Rosa ICU patient and over the ensuing days worked alongside nurses from 4 different Kaiser Permanente hospitals who had all come to help out.
On Oct. 30, Smithson returned to work at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa ICU, and to hugs from her colleagues. That day she described housing as “very, very difficult,” with FEMA flooded, no available hotel rooms, and an already impacted rental market. But on Nov. 2 she found permanent housing and got a new bed — a safe haven for the nurse who between Kaiser Permanente and Memorial works 12-hour shifts 6 days a week.
Despite the hardship, Smithson said she will not leave Santa Rosa — or Kaiser Permanente.
“I love Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa. This hospital and the people are just phenomenal. I’ve lost everything, yet I didn’t lose who I am. I am a nurse. Nurses have a significant job. Someone will remember us for the rest of their lives. How many people can say that about their work?”
In the upcoming weeks, look for more stories about the people of Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa and the employees and physicians throughout Kaiser Permanente who supported them during and after the North Bay fires.