Every once in a while we like to shine a light on a health center leader who demonstrates resilience when confronted with a challenge. One such person is Gabriela Bernal-Leroi, Chief Operating Officer for Santa Rosa Community Health (SRCH). In the fall of 2017, a massive wildfire ravaged Northern California, forcing 90,000 people from their homes, destroying 245,000 acres and burning an estimated 8,900 structures. It was a moment of reckoning for Bernal-Leroi. One of the structures irreparably damaged was SRCH’s largest site, called the Vista Campus. Some 24,000 patients depended on the Vista Campus for their health care — a disruption of vital services, especially in a time of disaster, was unthinkable.
Bernal-Leroi and all the health center leadership and staff worked feverishly to restore services, cobbling together staff and resources. Special shipping containers were converted into exam rooms and mobile health vans from sister health centers were also utilized. Bear in mind that SRCH staff were acting as both victims and responders in this case. Many staffers lost their homes and were displaced, or had family members who lost homes. Bernal not only helped oversee the immediate recovery after the fire; she also worked hard to help open three new medical sites to address the longer-term need to replace the capacity that was lost at the Vista Campus.
“Gaby has been a steadfast and strong leader, making sure that all of our patients can get care no matter what and helping hundreds of employees navigate this incredibly difficult, stressful, scary, and emotional time,” said Naomi Fuchs, CEO at Santa Rosa Community Health. “Today, we are preparing to re-open Vista and she is leading the rebuild, while also managing her role as COO.”
The loss of the Vista site was all the more personal for Bernal-Leroi because she had built it from the ground up, making it an incubator of innovation and enterprise that not only improved care but also made it more accessible for patients. In a recent interview with the Sonoma Index Tribune, Leroi described what happened in the days following the fire:
“Personally, I was impacted because I opened Vista. It was my baby, and I was so proud that as a team we cared for 24,000 people. It was a huge loss to our SRCH family and to our patients. And I’m incredibly proud of our organization’s response. We were closed for one day! We immediately focused on meeting all our patients’ needs during the fire and it hasn’t stopped.”
Bernal-Leroi’s efforts after the fire drew the notice of Los Cien, Sonoma County’s largest Latino leadership organization (see article). They recently presented her with the “Ganas” award, which recognizes extraordinary effort on behalf of the community. Meanwhile, SRCH is set to open the doors of the new Vista Campus in August.
Related: “It’s Really Just Hitting Me Now.”