‘Really good hearts’

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Doreen Fogle gets a blood pressure check up at Medspire Health’s December clinic in downtown Paradise.

Four months after the Camp Fire, Katie Rosauer was providing free medical care to Camp Fire survivors in Magalia when she had an unforgettable experience: She met a paraplegic diabetic woman who was living in a tent without her medications, trying to stay warm with a gas heater in 30-degree weather.

In addition to organizing transportation to a local hospital, Rosauer, with the help of other volunteers, provided her with prescription refills and diabetic supplies, wheelchair cushions and adult diapers.

Situations such as this, unfortunately, are commonplace, even more than a year after the disaster, Rosauer told the CN&R. “People are living in conditions that I couldn’t even create in my head,” she said.

Rosauer is part of Medspire Health, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization made up of medical and mental health providers who offer free non-emergency health care to Ridge residents. Some of the helpers are Camp Fire survivors themselves, or, like Rosauer, used to work at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital. As for the people they serve, Rosauer estimates 95 percent are at or below the poverty level, and accessing adequate health care is a significant challenge.

“Being able to help these people and see a grin on their face because we came to them and they feel they are important because we feel they are important … there’s nothing better,” she said.

The nonprofit’s ultimate goal is to raise enough money to purchase a mobile medical unit—a custom truck and RV that will make it easier to provide care. In the meantime, Medspire has hosted seven clinics at different locations on the Ridge, primarily at churches. Its volunteers offer a variety of services, including wellness screenings, wound care, blood sugar and blood pressure checks, prescriptions and refills of important medications, flu vaccinations, health insurance assistance, counseling and referrals to primary care and social services.

Medspire is partnered with the Maven Project—a nonprofit that provides consultations in such specialties as cardiology and neurology, via telemedicine—and is sponsored by the international humanitarian organization Direct Relief, which helps stock their clinics with supplies.

The Medspire Health team came together because of the Camp Fire. In November 2018, dozens of health care providers showed up to volunteer at the East Avenue Church, one of the evacuation shelters that formed immediately after the fire broke out.

Elisabeth Gundersen, a Bay Area nurse practitioner who grew up in Paradise, showed up on Nov. 9 with her mother, Denise, and sister, Birgitte Randall, who were both nurses at Feather River. The family helped run an on-site clinic with triage centers and urgent care services.

“It was this very robust, very organized system that somehow sprung out of nowhere,” Gundersen told the CN&R.

The volunteers served over 200 survivors, a majority of whom were medically fragile, had chronic health conditions, and/or relied on walkers, wheelchairs or other medical equipment.

That’s how Libby Andresen met Gundersen and her family. They formed a special bond with Andresen’s diabetic mother, and made sure she got insulin, a new glucose monitor and blood sugar testing supplies.

“The attention they were giving to the people coming in was unreal,” Andresen said. “They were so giving and so loving. They spent so much time and energy in helping others.”

When the church shelter closed after a month, many of the volunteer providers felt compelled to keep caring for survivors because the need was so great and much of the Ridge’s medical infrastructure had been wiped out. Thus Medspire Health was formed. Gundersen is the president of Medspire; Randall, who lost her Paradise home to the blaze, is vice president; and their mother is a board member.

Rosauer, who also volunteered at the East Avenue Church, became the organization’s secretary and director of public relations.

“[We] wanted to do something ongoing and lasting, and this is something I’ve believed in,” Gundersen told the CN&R. “I think there should be a safety net; there should be free health care available to anyone who needs it.”

Medspire held its latest free clinic on a recent Sunday at the Lotus Center on the Skyway. While the turnout was lower than average, likely due to the pouring rain, Medspire typically sees 20 to 50 patients at each event.

That day, Doreen Fogle took a deep breath and closed her eyes as a nurse practioner tightened a blood pressure cuff around her right arm. She was relieved to hear great news: The prescription to stabilize her high blood pressure was working well.

Fogle, who lives in Magalia, has found it hard to prioritize her health since the fire, she told the CN&R—she volunteers eight hours a day, six days a week at the Magalia Community Church to help run a recovery center for her fellow survivors. When Medspire hosted a clinic at the church in October, she convinced herself to stop by. What she found was an encouraging, genuine, nonjudgmental group of people, she said.

“I think like all the other volunteers and people that have stepped up after the fire … [they’re] just people that have really good hearts and really good values and really want to help people,” she said.

Before she left that day, Fogle spoke with a counselor from Behavioral Health, leaving with mindfulness exercises she said she plans to use when she feels overwhelmed.

Andresen also received services that day. She was unable to make it in person, and spoke with a mental health provider via phone. Her mother recently died of cancer, Andresen told the CN&R, and she has been having a hard time coping. Medspire is helping her secure follow-up counseling and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“They’re just always there for everybody,” Andresen said. “Because there’s people that can’t go anywhere, that can’t afford anything, that can’t do anything, and yet they’ve made it possible to show up where they’re needed … and [help people] take advantage of the services.”