Senior Kern County officials assessing flood risks to critical local infrastructure have identified Bakersfield Heart Hospital as potentially vulnerable to inundation in the weeks ahead, followed to a lesser degree by Mercy Southwest and the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway.
In case either medical center does flood, a plan has been put in place for other local hospitals to take in patients who might have to be evacuated, said the county’s director of emergency services, Aaron Duncan, who emphasized he was not saying the area around Bakersfield Heart will flood.
“I’m saying we need to be prepared,” Duncan said, adding, “Right now, there’s no risk to any hospitals.”
The three sites are among few that have been specifically mentioned by authorities as possibly subject to inundation, along with Manor Street in general, part of the Kern River Oil Field, Hart Park and Truxtun Lakes.
Uncertainty remains but chances of flooding in and around Bakersfield are greatest if temperatures warm for a prolonged period and a rush of snowmelt into Isabella Lake forces water managers to release unmanageable flows toward Bakersfield. Duncan said the greatest risks lie between the mouth of the Kern River Canyon and the Manor Street bridge, because that stretch contains few options for taking water off the river.
Duncan, speaking by phone after he ordered the reactivation of the county’s Emergency Operations Center next to Bakersfield College, said the Heart Hospital stands at a “low spot” near the Kern River such that someone standing on the north bank of the nearby levee can look straight at the hospital’s second floor.
While Mercy Southwest also faces possible flooding under current planning scenarios, Duncan said, chances are lower that it will.
Officials have generally avoided referring publicly to specific locations facing the threat of inundation. But mention was made of Bakersfield Heart Hospital in a copy of part of an internal government email dated Monday and obtained by SJV Water.
The same email referred to Manor Street as well as possible closure of the Chester Avenue Bridge. Duncan said current scenarios do not envision the bridge closing, “but that is always subject to change.”
City of Bakersfield spokesman Joe Conroy declined to comment on the email other than to say staff are preparing for possible closure of the bike path below the bridge, “not the bridge itself.” He noted the city continues to remove debris from along the river and that staff are monitoring levees and the river system 24 hours per day.
Bakersfield Heart Hospital said through a spokeswoman Tuesday the hospital is aware of potential flooding risks from water released from the lake. She added the medical center is collaborating with local emergency management agencies to gain insight and information on any possible threat.
“As part of our ongoing disaster preparedness, we are continuously planning and performing disaster drills,” spokeswoman Laura Sabedra said by email. “In an effort to ensure effective coordination during a possible flooding event, our drills are focused on flooding scenario exercises, which involves communication with all of our staff.”