In a year marked by a series of disasters and tragedies, 2018 highlighted the very best of what it means to be a part of HCA Healthcare and the communities we are privileged to serve. If last year showed us anything, it’s that we are stronger together.
Those words couldn’t be more true for the people of Thousand Oaks, California and its community hospital, Los Robles Regional Medical Center, after enduring twin tragedies in November 2018. In a 24-hour span, a mass shooting at the Borderline Grill & Bar took the lives of 12 people, followed by a destructive wildfire (Woolsey Fire) that forced thousands to evacuate the area.
HCA Healthcare colleagues who live and work in the community were affected by both events.
“There’s never an easy time to lose any patient”
As a result of the shooting on November 7, eleven victims, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus, were received by the emergency and trauma team at Los Robles. Sadly, Sgt. Helus succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
Dr. Walid Arnaout, the attending trauma surgeon that night at Los Robles, treated the 54-year-old officer.
“There’s never an easy time to lose any patient,” Dr. Arnaout told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “It is even harder when you have a public servant, an officer who basically died or got shot in the line of duty. It makes it a lot harder to swallow.”
“The officer came in with critical injuries that myself and the rest of the trauma team attended to the best of our abilities,” said Dr. Arnaout, who later had to evacuate his home due to approaching flames.
Hospital leadership, nurses, physicians, staff and community members stood with scores of mourners to pay their respect to the fallen hero during an emotional procession that began at Los Robles.
Grieving with one of our own
The unprecedented tragedy rocked the tight-knit community and shook caregivers at the HCA Healthcare affiliate to their core, even more, when they learned a family member of one of their own was among the 12 killed at the Borderline Bar & Grill.
Kathy Dunham, an oncology nurse at Los Robles and mother to Jake Dunham, learned her son’s life was taken that night at the age of 21-years-old. His best friend, Blake Dingman, also died in the shooting.
“Never in a million years did I think this was the way he would die,” Dunham told the local paper of her late son’s death.
Dunham’s nursing colleagues rallied around her, offering their love and support and voluntarily donating their paid time off (PTO) hours, an HCA Healthcare policy, so she could grieve without the financial worry.
Dunham has navigated this devastating and personal loss by returning to her calling – caring for others – in February, nearly three months after the tragedy, and continues to honor her son’s memory by sharing his story around the world.
“Jake has always lived life to the fullest,” she said in a People magazine interview. “And full-throttle, wide-open — or as he put it, ‘Hold ‘er wide’! (a popular phrase in the off-roading community that Jake was a part of, which means to do something with maximum speed and effort)
Catastrophic fire rages toward hospital
No one expected it could get much worse after the Borderline massacre, however, a natural disaster was brewing.
The fast-moving Woolsey fire forced the evacuation of local residents and the Los Robles Rehabilitation Hospital. Twenty-four patients from our rehab facility were moved to sister facility West Hills Hospital for their safety.
HCA Healthcare’s scale allowed us to respond with emergency response resources for the hospitals, as well as additional personnel. A group of nurses from affiliate Riverside Community Hospital arrived to provide nursing relief and ensure uninterrupted patient care.
From the volunteer pet therapists who worked 36 hours straight to the doctors who mobilized to treat the victims of Borderline and then fled their homes due to the fires to the nurses who worked around the clock to ensure continuity of care to the hospital chaplains and community pastors who ministered to the frightened and grief-stricken, thank you for serving the community through both of the tragedies.
Watch the video below to meet a few of the faces from Los Robles Regional Medical Center, West Hills Hospital and the Ventura County community whose Commitment to Care never wavered through the dual tragedies of November 2018.