Santa Rosa, Napa physicians hit by wildfires manage personal loss as they heal others

Santa Rosa, Napa physicians hit by wildfires manage personal loss as they heal others

23 July 2018

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USA – Though more than 200 physicians lost their homes when the wildfires swept through the North Bay in October, few have given up and moved on.

“As physicians, we don’t want the focus to be on us,” said Dr. Patricia May, a general surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa. “We are here to serve and help our community by providing seamless health care during this challenging time.”

Dr. May and her family lost their home in the fires.

The Mays, who have three teenage children and several pets, were immediately taken in by a colleague, where they stayed for two months until their Santa Rosa rental home was ready, she said, noting it was an easy decision to stay in the area.

“We have been so touched by all of the outreach of our community, our friends, both my colleagues at work and our church,” she said, as well as the support system at her children’s school. “It’s just an amazing group of people.”

Prior to the fires, May had agreed to take over as president of the Sonoma County Medical Association, a commitment she was steadfast to keep. She officially stepped into her role at the end of May.

“I wanted to continue with it because I truly believe we need to support our doctors through this time so that none leave,” she said. “We want to make sure our health care community stays robust.”

May said the Sonoma County Medical Association has been working closely with its physicians.

“SCMA recognizes that a lot of our physicians are still facing great personal challenges in the wake of the October fires,” she said. “Many lost their homes and are trying to manage the insurance and rebuild tasks on the side of very busy full-time work demands.”

Wendy Young, who serves as executive director of SCMA, said few physicians affected by the fires have chosen to relocate.

“In speaking with all of the group leaders recently, I learned that only about four physicians have left the area after the fires,” Young said. “Out of the more than 250 physicians that lost their homes, this is a very low percentage.”

Dr. Paul Dugan, an oncologist in Napa who is affiliated with Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, also lost his home in the fires.

“We were wiped out on the first night of the fire,” he said, adding that his Silverado property also included a guest home. “Everything was burned.”

The Dugans were out of town and returning home the night the fires broke out, he said. They arrived before the evacuation, so were able to rescue their dog and grab a few photos. The house burned a few hours later.

“We were the very bottom house on a steep hill, so I figured fire doesn’t move downhill, so we should be OK,” he said. “This fire moved downhill.”

The Dugans, who have lived in Napa since 1989, have no intention of leaving, and are in the process of rebuilding their home on the same property.

“To be honest, the way I put this in perspective is that what my patients go through is so much more than I’ve gone through,” Dugan said, whose patients often face chemotherapy. “This is trivial.”

Still, Dugan has chosen to retire, a decision he made after the fires, but not solely for that reason, he said. He will shutter operations on Aug. 1, which also marks the 29th anniversary of when he opened his practice.

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