Caregivers at Centura – Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, Colorado, are “loving neighbors helping loving neighbors”—people helping people and members of the community they serve with compassionate, whole person care. When the Marshall Fire began burning near Avista Adventist in Boulder County on Dec. 30, 2021, employees from the hospital sprung into action to care for one another in ways they never could have imagined.
For Allison Brown, the smell of smoke was the first clue that something was burning near the hospital. As the flames crept closer to Avista Adventist, the threat of evacuation became a reality. As a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse, Allison’s job is to help new moms and take care of the hospital’s tiniest, most fragile patients.
“We started with our NICU babies, the neonatal intensive care unit,” Isaac Sendros, CEO, explained of the evacuation process, “followed by our OB, newborns and ICU patients. Med/Surg was next, and so were our emergency department patients.”
Allison and her colleagues loaded up the infants’ medical charts and scrambled to stash mothers’ breastmilk in a backpack. They grabbed rolling carts, warm blankets and tucked in the babies before fleeing to safety.
In just two hours, Avista Adventist evacuated 51 patients and around 100 employees. Patients were transported by ambulances to other Centura Health facilities, St. Anthony North Hospital and Longmont United Hospital, where caregivers were prepared to welcome them.
“When we got to the hospital, the babies reunited with parents. Moms got settled…it was such a sigh of relief,” Allison said. “Everyone could breathe again, you know. But man, these babies – like – little tiny babies, but they’re strong; they’re fighters.”
Strength showed up in many ways that day.
“Part of being a nurse is you are in countless situations where things don’t go the way you plan. You have to keep your calm,” said Allison. “There was no other choice, really.”
After all, this is her community, too. Allison said Avista Adventist feels like home.
“We know these babies, we’re connected to these babies, they feel like an extension of us,” she said. “If you take one step back – so many of us live in this community. This is our home that’s burning.”
The Marshall Fire came within feet of Avista Adventist. Though flames spared the facility, the hospital did suffer significant smoke damage. Avista Adventist employees and volunteers, led by restoration experts, worked tirelessly in the weeks following the fire to deep clean and sanitize every surface of the hospital.
The resilience and dedication of the Avista Adventist caregivers has been inspiring. Many of them were supporting their patients – all without knowing whether their own homes would survive the fire.
Kim Christensen, a nurse in GI who has worked at Avista for the past 18 years, was taking care of patients and looked out the window to see a big black plume of smoke. Her home was just down the street from the hospital, and she quickly realized it might not survive.
“I was hopeful, but I really didn’t think we would have a home to come back to,” Kim shared.
After evacuating the hospital and joining her family as parts of surrounding Louisville burned, Kim learned that her home was burned. Through donations coordinated through a local TV station, Kim’s mortgage will be paid through the end of the year.
Centura Health also stepped in to support employees impacted by the fire, investing $1.5 million to help caregivers rebuild their lives. Support included financial assistance to individuals who experienced loss, covering up to three months of housing for employees who experienced the loss of their homes, and paying Avista Adventist employees in full who were scheduled to work to ensure they had time to begin the process of recovery. This assistance was made possible in partnership with Centura Health’s sponsors and foundations. Fellow employees and community members also supported those impacted by the fire with donating over $220,000 of in-kind gifts.
“Our caregivers have sacrificed over the last few years, putting themselves at risk to care for others. Their response to the Marshall Fire was another example of health care workers putting others first and themselves second,” Isaac added.
Less than three weeks after the fire, Avista Adventist reopened, continuing its 31-year legacy of delivering high-quality, whole person care. Today, the hospital serves as a beacon of hope, again safely caring for its neighbors and helping the community heal after devastating loss.