Local Clinicians Respond to Mounting Health Risks After Montecito Mudslide

Staff at the Westside location of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics unpack a box filled with vaccinations that will protect first responders and community members from tetanus. The combination vaccine will be offered free-of-charge to individuals exposed to flood water and debris following the tragic mudslide in Montecito. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)

After more than a week spent trudging through the stagnant floodwaters and thick mud layering Montecito in search of survivors, emergency response personnel have shifted their focus from rescue to recovery.

As the response enters this new phase and residents make plans to return to their homes, medical professionals also are shifting their focus toward longer-term health concerns that range from exposure to black mold and respiratory infections to tetanus.

Dr. Charles Fenzi receives a box filled with Tdap vaccinations at Goleta Neighborhood Clinic on  January 16 from Direct Relief’s Katie Lewis and Dr. Angel Iscovich. The combination vaccine will be offered free-of-charge to individuals exposed to flood water and debris following the tragic mudslide in Montecito. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Tetanus can enter the body through a break in the skin, according to Dr. Charles Fenzi, Chief Medical Officer of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics. Anyone who expects to be involved in cleanup efforts is advised to have their vaccination.

The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics will be administering Tdap vaccines, donated by Direct Relief in coordination with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, to anyone exposed to flood water and debris after last week’s deadly mudslide.

A list of clinics where people can receive vaccinations free of charge can be found here.

The Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics Go Above and Beyond

Dr. Anupama Sharma talks with Direct Relief staff Tuesday after commuting to work via ferry. Many Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic staff have been impacted by the mudslides and have had to find alternate routes to work. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)

With Highway 101, the main north-south route into Santa Barbara, closed due to the mudslide, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic staff have been riding the train or taking a ferry to work, said Tiana Riskowski, who works with neighborhood clinics.

At the Eastside Clinic, Dr. Anupama Sharma had just shown up to her shift on Tuesday morning. The doctor, who has worked at the clinic for 11 years, lives in Carpinteria and is blocked from getting to the clinic by the Montecito closure of Highway 101.

That didn’t stop her from arriving to start her patient visits. She took the ferry to the Santa Barbara Harbor and then traveled to the clinic.

“I want to be at work,” she said.

At the Goleta clinic, a group of staff had just arrived at a nearby train station on Tuesday morning, and a staff member was leaving to pick them up so they could begin their day of work.

The community has been in an extended state of disaster response for more than six weeks, with the Thomas Fire breaking out in December. The fast-moving fire also proved challenging for staff trying to get to work, where many patients were seeking care for respiratory issues exacerbated by the smoky air.

When a palm tree farm next to Highway 101 caught on fire, “we had employees literally driving through the flames to get to work,” Riskowski said. “They are dedicated to getting to here.”

Choosing to work at the clinics already signifies dedication to public health, she said. On a good day, “just to be here, you have to be passionate.”

But again and again, when disaster strikes or a hardship is encountered, clinic staff go into overdrive.

“When stuff hits the fan, it just renews their passion,” Riskowski said. “They inspire me every day.”

Further Reading

KEYT Free Tetanus Shots to Mudslide Victims

KEYT Direct Relief Donates ATVs for Flood Debris Search

Sacramento Bee