July 7, 2016
Story and Photo by Kirsten Goruk
More than two months after a wildfire tore through the city of Fort McMurray, things are starting to get back to normal and for Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff in the city, that means taking care of their fellow residents’ healthcare needs.
For many Fort McMurray residents, the memories of their evacuation on May 3 are still fresh. Those involved in the safe and successful evacuation of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre’s (NLRHC) 73 acute care patients and 32 continuing care clients continue to receive praise.
But so much other work has taken place since then though and it spans across zones and departments within AHS.
“When you think about all of the hours and manpower involved in this evacuation and subsequent recovery process, it’s rather impressive and humbling,” says David Matear, Senior Operating Director for AHS’ Area 10.
Aside from providing healthcare support to first responders and recovery workers during restoration, AHS and contract staff worked hard to restore every AHS facility back to full function as quickly and safely as possible. In total, over 4,000 AHS employees have assisted in one way or another.
Today, the NLRHC along with sites such as the Fort McMurray Community Health Services building, Thickwood Medical Centre and Queen Street Building are back to or very close to offering full services including emergency and inpatient hospital care, public health, home care and addiction & mental health. The residents of the long-term care unit were repatriated starting on June 23 and they will all be back home on the fourth floor by July 11.
A phased re-opening of the Fort McMurray Cancer Centre will begin July 11 and this will mark the final piece of the puzzle as the NLRHC gets back to normal operations.
Public Health Nurse Shelagh Buchmann was one of the first staff members to return to work following the evacuations. With her house still standing and her son old enough to look after himself, she didn’t think twice about coming back on May 29.
“At the end of the day, it’s still your job. I didn’t think about it being any different. I was able to be there, so I went,” she says.
“It was a good experience, not something I’d like to repeat, but it was positive in the team sense. We were the first on the ground and every day you could see a little bit of progress. The first few days it was eerie, with no traffic, but every day there was a little bit more activity.”
On Friday June 24, staff from across the city attended a recognition and celebration event in their honour at the hospital. Buchmann and some of her fellow Public Health staff members were glad to be able to make it to the event
Staff were joined by AHS CEO and President Dr. Verna Yiu and she and Matear expressed their gratitude and thanks to everyone involved in the efforts to date.
“We’ve had the eyes of the country, and for a bit, I would imagine, the world on us. And Fort McMurray’s resilience and strength, the generosity and kindness of Albertans and Canadians and the determination and dedication of AHS has shone through during that time. It hasn’t been easy, but when it really matters, we’ve pulled together,” says Matear.
It’s clear that the work is far from over, as the city looks now towards rebuilding those lost neighbourhoods and bringing back a sense of normalcy for its residents.
“AHS continues to support those employees and their families, as well as everyone else touched by this natural disaster and our thoughts remain with everyone who suffered loss of property. While we celebrate all that we’ve accomplished so far, we know that the road ahead of us will have new challenges that we will face together,” Matear says.