One Crisis After Another: How A Mobile Clinic Is Serving People Still Recovering From The Camp Fire

Apr 15, 2020

We’re all going through the COVID-19 crisis, but what if you were going through this one, after just having been through another? That’s the experience being faced by those who went through the 2018 Camp Fire.

For a look at what’s happening with health care on the ridge, NSPR’s Christian Solis spoke with Elisabeth Gundersen who works for MedSpire Health, a mobile clinic that serves the communities still recovering in the fire’s wake. Here are highlights from their conversation.

Interview Highlights

On the challenges being faced by communities on the ridge with this pandemic

There is obviously the limited resources that were in place even before this pandemic. There really just aren't that many clinics. And then there's the fact that there's a high percentage of low-income folks that live on the ridge.

But I think that the biggest barrier right now is just fear. What I'm seeing from the phone calls that we're receiving is that patients who have medical concerns and are actually sick and should see a provider, instead of doing that, are staying home, just because they're afraid to interact with the healthcare system. They're afraid of being exposed to the virus. They're afraid of sitting in a doctor's office with other sick patients knowing that they themselves are medically fragile. And so that in and of itself is a really big problem, because the longer that patients wait at home, when they're sick, the sicker that they're going to be when they actually are seen by provider face-to-face.

On how the coronavirus has changed the way MedSpire is interacting with patients

We've had open telehealth lines since the start of the pandemic, and we just let people call us anytime 24 hours a day. We have kind of an answering service setup. So most of our services are conducted over the phone in terms of medical care.

And then we've also been making and delivering masks. And we take calls with requests for whatever really people need. But one thing that's emerged is that people are just really afraid — especially our patient population who, like I said, are older and a lot of them are medically fragile — people are just afraid to leave their homes. So people call us for groceries, for medication refills, because they're afraid to go to their regular doctor's offices. We've done deliveries of vitamins and water, bottled water, and toilet paper, when we can find it. We're kind of just trying to be a catch-all right now and think on our feet and respond to whatever the need happens to be.

On how COVID-19 is affecting Camp Fire recovery efforts

One of the things that really comes to mind is the small businesses on the ridge that were really just getting on their feet — antique stores, you know, secondhand clothing stores, restaurants, small coffee shops — you know, people who are just kind of now 18 months after the fire, starting out again, now being closed for six weeks. I mean, I think that's really devastating to that progress.

For weeks and months after the fire, you saw people walking around with masks, and now that's happening again.

And then I think there's also the emotional toll. I think from what I've heard from a lot of people is that, you know, for weeks and months after the fire, you saw people walking around with masks, and now that's happening again. And so I think there's an element of PTSD to seeing the community kind of in upheaval once more with with all businesses closed and people staying home and not seeing people out and about. It's kind of a reminder of what those first weeks and months were like after the fire — that the community sort of feels really, really deserted once more.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.