Learning from Wildfire Disaster Experience in California NICUs

Children (Basel). 2020 Oct 1;7(10):155. doi: 10.3390/children7100155.


Wildfires have been affecting California greatly, and vulnerable patients in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are not exempt. Our aim was to learn how personnel working in NICUs of California hospitals handled issues of neonatal transfer during wildfire disasters in recent years, with an ultimate goal to share lessons learned with healthcare teams on disaster preparedness. We identified California fires through newspaper articles and the CalFire.gov list. We determined which hospitals were affected and contacted members of the healthcare team through connections via the California Perinatal Quality Care Collaborative (CPQCC) database. We audio recorded interviews over phone or remote conferencing software or by written survey. We coded and analyzed transcripts and survey responses. While describing disaster preparedness, equipment (such as bassinets and backpacks), ambulance access/transport and documentation/charting were noted as important and essential. Teamwork, willingness to do other tasks that are not part of typical job descriptions, and unconventional strategies contribute to the success of keeping NICU babies safe when California wildfire strikes. Healthcare teams developed ingenious and surprising ways to evacuate NICU babies.

Keywords: California; NICU; disaster preparedness; evacuation; perinatal care; wildfire.