Lincoln County: Power Outages, Escalating Wildfires Result in Hospital Evacuation
On Sept. 9, the wildfires in Lincoln County forced the evacuation of hundreds of people — including patients and staff at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital. With so many people displaced and the potential for homes to be destroyed by fire, Samaritan Health Services employees from throughout Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties quickly rallied to provide support to their fellow Samaritans and others in the community.
Even while the fires still burned, Samaritans mobilized to gather emergency supplies for displaced employees and community members.
Two vans were filled with emergency supplies and sack lunches, which arrived at the North Lincoln Hospital Foundation office by noon on Saturday, Sept. 12. This was supplemented by an outpouring of donations and surplus from other fire response initiatives.
Evacuees were encouraged to take as much as they needed: food products, fresh fruits and vegetables, clothing and shoes, toiletries, makeup, toys, bedding and more.
Although a shift in wind direction prevented the fire from advancing into Lincoln City, it came dangerously close. Fires could be seen burning in the hills east of the hospital, across Devils Lake, and 10 days after it began, it was still only 65% contained. It burned across 2,552 acres, destroying 293 homes and 22 other structures. Amazingly, there were no fatalities.
Even after evacuation levels were reduced, 30 Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital employees were still displaced from their homes while fire suppression and safety checks were made in the damaged neighborhoods. The homes of 12 employees were destroyed by fire and seven more were made uninhabitable.
Wildfires & Evacuations
This story began on Labor Day, Sept. 7. Windstorms on the central Oregon Coast are common but the winds that day were particularly fierce and unusual. Blowing from the east at a constant high velocity, they contained little humidity but enough force to topple good‑sized trees. Much of north Lincoln County lost electrical power around 10 p.m. Many lay in bed awake, listening to the howling winds with trepidation.
The next morning, the community began to hear of two fires between the tiny communities of Otis and Rose Lodge. A home was lost to the fire. Then another. Firefighting crews had been dispatched, but most people in Lincoln City were not truly aware of what was happening in the steep hills and valleys just four miles to the east.
On Wednesday morning, Sept. 9, many residents awoke with power restored. The optimism brought by bright lights was quickly dampened when word came that hundreds along the Salmon River were being evacuated in a Level 3 “Go Now” alert. The two fires had merged. Soon, the densely populated neighborhoods within the northern boundaries of Lincoln City — including the one surrounding the new Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital — were also told to prepare for evacuation. Within a couple of hours, that level of urgency was raised to “Go Now.”
“Decision‑making unfolded very quickly, ” said Dr. Lesley Ogden, CEO for both Samaritan hospitals in Lincoln County. “With the approaching fire, worsening air quality and employees needing to evacuate from their homes, it became obvious that we would need to move patients out of the hospital — and that south was the only way to go. The patients were readied and Pacific West Ambulance quickly transported all nine inpatients to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport.
Hospitals Supporting Each Other
Staff at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital quickly obtained motel rooms for evacuating Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital employees even while their own hospital was becoming filled with emergency patients.
“Everyone in Newport worked hard to absorb the extra load with supplemental clinical, administrative and managerial help from Lincoln City staff,” Dr. Ogden said. “Challenges in Newport included displaced patients without discharge locations, an influx of fragile medical patients in the Emergency Department, equipment failures and staffing gaps. But we all pulled together to figure out solutions.”
In addition, Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis began reserving inpatient beds for transfers from the coast.
Reopening Evacuated Hospital
Once they realized that the fire was no longer advancing into Lincoln City, administrators began working with the Oregon Health Authority to reopen Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital as quickly as possible. This required determining that all systems were operational, that the building was safe and clean to occupy, that there was consistent electrical service and adequate staffing to once again offer continuous 24‑hour coverage.
The hospital reopened with emergency services at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, and full hospital and clinic services on Monday, Sept. 14.
Benton & Linn County: Preparedness Efforts Initiated While Many Employees Volunteer to Help Others
Emergency Room Nurse Clair Barnett had just completed a night shift at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 8, when she reached for her phone to check for messages and alerts about the growing wildfires. A message on Facebook announcing a shelter was being set up at the Linn County Fairgrounds caught her attention so she decided to stop by on her way home to offer medical services. Barnett was asked to come back the next day.
She arrived Wednesday morning to three medical students standing behind a table labeled “medical station.” They had a laptop and a general plan to offer medical attention to anyone who walked in, but there were no medical supplies, medications or resources. Barnett and the students spent the next 21 hours making calls, collecting supplies, coordinating volunteers and organizing the medical area.
Over the next week, more than 50 employees responded to the call for help to care for more than 600 evacuees. Samaritan provided oxygen tanks, inhalers, over‑the‑counter medications and a large variety of other medical supplies and services. Non‑clinical employees along with certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, doctors and licensed therapists, offered time and support to those experiencing crisis.
Many people left their homes in a hurry without time to grab medications and other essentials. Many developed breathing problems and allergies. Some had become too weak to stand or use the bathroom without assistance.
“Our station became much more than just medical, ” said Barnett. “We made rounds four times a day to see what people needed and what we could do to ease the trauma they were experiencing. We went door‑to‑door in the community letting residents know it was free to stay at the fairgrounds. We became a refuge. We acted as Samaritans and I have never been prouder to be part of an organization or community.”
Across the valley at the Benton County Fairgrounds, many more evacuees, volunteers and Samaritan staff were gathering to accomplish the same goals: safety, security, help, comfort and medical attention. Kim Sather, associate vice president for Samaritan’s Information Systems department, joined many others in taking six‑hour shifts to help serve food, accept donations, hand out supplies and direct traffic.
“It was amazing to see the community come together the way they did,” said Sather. “I cannot imagine having to leave my home and everything behind, not knowing if or when it’ll ever be seen again. But just as they always do, neighbors, friends, businesses, organizations, individuals and Samaritans showed up. It is a strong community and we will continue to prevail together.”
While Samaritan’s services in Lincoln City were impacted by power outages, staff evacuating their own homes and the evacuation of Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital, Samaritan Wiley Creek Community in Sweet Home was also preparing to evacuate its assisted living residents. Although the area remained at a Level 1 “Be Ready” alert for the duration of the threat, plans were being made to get residents to safety should Level 2 “Get Set” be activated. Every resident was instructed to pack an overnight bag and be ready to leave should the need arise.
“We had planned to evacuate the Wiley Creek Community at a Level 2 alert so we would have more than enough time to calmly get the residents to safety,” said Ryan Combs, COO for Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital. “Our team worked quickly and diligently to ensure all needs of the residents could be met away from the facility.”
Evacuation plans included moving residents to Best Western PREMIER™ Boulder Falls Inn in Lebanon. A truck had been loaded and staged for easy access with supplies.
“We are extremely lucky and thankful we never had to activate our plan,” said Combs. “But now we are more than prepared for any future evacuation events. I am very thankful to the army of planners for their quick and resourceful efforts.”