As fire lapped at the ground mere feet from supplemental oxygen tanks outside of Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, hospital staff fought back with hoses and buckets of water.
The scene played out as a grassfire turned into the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history on Thursday, December 30, exacerbated by high winds and extremely dry conditions. The Marshall Fire forced residents of Superior and Louisville to evacuate quickly, including patients and staff at Louisville’s only hospital.
“Our facilities director smelled smoke in the air and got up on the roof [of the hospital] and saw the fires from afar, but also saw where the winds were pushing towards the hospital,” says Isaac Sendros, CEO of Avista. “So we made the decision to open up the command center at that moment for the hospital.”
Within two hours, Avista had evacuated nearly 100 staff and all 51 patients, including newborn intensive care unit infants and “a few” ventilated patients, according to Sendros.
The evacuation was completed using medical transport vehicles from Colorado’s Combined Hospital Transfer Center, as well as vehicles provided by Centura Health, the parent company that manages Avista. Patients were moved to either Longmont United Hospital or St. Anthony North in Westminster.
According to Sendros, 14 hospital employees lost their homes in the fire.
“At least two [of those 14 employees] that I know of were on site as part of the evacuation, knowing most likely their houses were on fire at that moment,” he says. A number of employees will take on temporary positions at other Centura hospitals in the area, and Centura will continue to pay those who have lost their homes, even if they are unable to work.
“The heroism I witnessed that day from this team here, between the doctors, the nurses, everybody putting their lives on the line to take care of those in need . . . I’m getting choked up just talking about it. It was amazing to see,” Sendros says, fighting back tears. “Health care workers have been at the head of the pandemic for the last two years, and they’re tired. But what I saw on Thursday is another example of how health care workers put the needs of others ahead of themselves, even while their houses are on fire.”
While the hospital was spared structural devastation—all that remains of Element, a Marriott hotel just a few thousand feet away from the hospital as the bird flies, is the foundation—Avista will be closed for an undetermined amount of time as cleaning crews work to mitigate smoke damage and purify the air.
“We’ve been part of Louisville since 1990,” Sendros says. “So for 30 years now, we’ve cared for this community. The fact that we’re still standing, I consider it a miracle. Yet we mourn with all our neighbors around us that have lost their homes, and who’ve been impacted by this. Our priority is to reopen as quickly and safely as possible, so that we can continue to care for this community.”