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California hospitals prepared as wildfires rage, association says

So far wildfires have not forced any hospital evacuations, but they are ready if they have to.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The Washington Fire located south of Markleeville, CA began on Jul. 19, 2015 and has consumed an estimated 17,790 acres. <em><a href="http://bit.ly/1UsZvtJ">USFS photo</a></em>.The Washington Fire located south of Markleeville, CA began on Jul. 19, 2015 and has consumed an estimated 17,790 acres. USFS photo.

Approaching wildfires and a lingering drought have hospitals in California putting their disaster plans into use.

With the drought affecting all 400 hospitals in the state, many are conserving water, according to Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president for external affairs for the California Hospital Association.

"We're well practiced at wildfires," said Cheri Hummel, vice president of Emergency Management and Facilities."We have more of those than earthquakes."

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[Also: HHS grants $352M for disaster preparedness in hospitals, health systems]

So far wildfires have not forced any hospital evacuations, but they are ready if they have to, Hummel said.

"It's a decision of last resort for many reasons," she said. "They've been told to plan to evacuate should they need to."

A bigger concern is smoke, she said, which have prompted evacuations in past fires, since they are so common to the arid state.

"Facilities often have to close their vents, or filter the air," she said.

The focus is currently in the northern section of California, where flames have burned close to 70,000 acres.

Gov. Jerry Brown on July 31 declared a state of emergency for California.

Around 2007, a massive wildfire in San Diego created a huge threat because of the larger population base, Emerson-Shea said. "We had to do a lot of evacuation," she said.

For this threat, fire crews are working hard to keep flames away from critical care facilities. "A large part of that has been fostered by federal preparedness grants and programs," said Emerson-Shea. "It's provided the funding and programs to ramp up preparedness."

Planners this year predicted an exceptionally dry year.

"What's critical and what I'm proud of, has really been the planning and exercising and responding together of hospitals and emergency responders," Hummel said.

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Going into the fourth year of the drought, the association has worked with hospitals on ways to save water, Emerson-Shea said, which has been one factor in hospitals adding "green" water conservation features in new facilities. That can include outdoor landscaping and irrigation areas.

While hospitals are exempt from much of the mandatory regulations to conserve, they are huge water consumers.

"We clearly have hospitals and health systems that are kind of leaders in some of these areas because they have the resources to commit to these efforts," Emerson-Shea said.

The larger systems such as Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and Stanford Health Care, have the finances to commit to such efforts, she confirmed.

Twitter: @SusanMorseHFN