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Health Services Updates

Weekly Letter from the Health Services Director

Planning Pays Off

From fires to planned power blackouts to an industrial explosion, Contra Costa County endured more emergencies over two months in 2019 than it normally experiences in a year.

None grew into catastrophic disasters, like those that have caused so much loss of life and destruction in other California communities. I feel fortunate and thankful that our county was spared the devastation experienced in other parts of the state, even though many Contra Costa residents and CCHS staff had their lives disrupted by the loss of electricity and the fire at the NuStar tank farm.

I am also thankful because, after watching and participating in the local government response to the challenges we did face, I know that Contra Costa is prepared.

No one can predict the outcome of an emergency, but it was reassuring to see responsiveness, coordination and effective action from all departments of our county government when Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to thousands of customers during two recent periods of extreme fire danger.

Our Department Operations Center (DOC) and the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activated twice in October due to PG&E shutoffs, including during a weekend of wind-fueled brush fires that resulted in the declaration of a local emergency by the Board of Supervisors.

During each emergency, county departments came together seamlessly to participate in the response, ensuring all aspects of the potentially complex situations were considered and addressed swiftly and effectively to help keep our communities safe.

Health Services was heavily involved, from health officers and members of our leadership team who staffed the EOC's Medical/Health Branch to the environmental health specialists who visited hundreds of restaurants to ensure no unsafe food was served to the public during outages.

Many CCHS employees assisted our crucial effort to contact patients depending on electricity for their medical equipment or who have conditions that make losing power potentially dangerous. Staff from Contra Costa Health Plan (CCHP), Public Health, Behavioral Health and our volunteer Medical Reserve Corps made the calls to ensure all those patients had emergency plans and our advice nurses were available to answer followup questions.

That mission required ingenuity as well as effort, because there was no readymade contact list. Public Heath's Epidemiology, Planning & Evaluation (EPE) unit, with assistance from IT's Business Intelligence team, did an amazing job of piecing together incomplete data from many sources to map and identify users of durable medical equipment who lived in affected areas, their level of risk and how to reach them.

Emergency Medical Services coordinated ambulance services throughout, including Sunday, Oct. 27, when high winds and extreme red-flag conditions during a PG&E shutoff caused multiple fires, neighborhood evacuations and injuries from falling trees. We also sent an ambulance strike team to support fire evacuations in the North Bay.

Our Hazardous Materials program monitored gas stations and similar facilities to ensure no spills during the outages and monitored the effects of nearby wildfires on our air quality. Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and most of our health centers, meanwhile, kept the lobby doors open to provide free charging stations for phones and medical equipment. Many of our community hospital partners did the same at our encouragement.

Meanwhile, our Health, Housing & Homeless Services Division managed the safe evacuation of its youth shelter in Crockett and our CORE outreach teams were prepared with water, food, and for potential staff mobilization.

None of this highly coordinated, impactful work happened by accident. At Health Services we plan, train and exercise year-round so that when we are called to fulfill our obligation as disaster service workers, we are efficient, organized and effective.

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