Hub brought spirit of hockey back to Alberta

December 7, 2020

During the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL Hub included designated sites for staff, players and team personnel. Games were played at Edmonton’s Roger’s Place (shown) and Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena without spectators. AHS’ Edmonton Zone Emergency Operations Centre (ZEOC) and members of the AHS NHL Taskforce worked to ensure the safety and well-being of all inside the hockey bubble, while being mindful of the surrounding community.

During the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL Hub included designated sites for staff, players and team personnel. Games were played at Edmonton’s Roger’s Place (shown) and Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena without spectators. AHS’ Edmonton Zone Emergency Operations Centre (ZEOC) and members of the AHS NHL Taskforce worked to ensure the safety and well-being of all inside the hockey bubble, while being mindful of the surrounding community.

AHS created NHL Taskforce to ensure Stanley Cup playoffs could drop the puck

Story by Vanessa Gomez | Photo courtesy of Cheryl Galbraith

All eyes were on Alberta’s capital city this past summer as the home ice of the Edmonton Oilers was chosen, alongside the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, to host the National Hockey League’s return to play.

As the two official NHL Hub Cities — or “bubbles” — drew nearer to game day, planning by several local and provincial organizations were quickly put in place to ensure the Stanley Cup playoffs went off without a hitch.

Within Alberta, to ensure public health guidelines were followed and to help safeguard the health of both those inside the bubble as well as in the surrounding community — Alberta Health Services was key in planning how best to meet this challenge safely.

“The Edmonton Zone Emergency Operations Centre (ZEOC) stood up an NHL Taskforce to stay connected to the hub, Oilers Entertainment Group, Alberta Health and the City of Edmonton and ensure the Hub was well-supported,” says Selene Tash, executive director, Community Health Services.

“We had to keep in mind the surrounding community and ensure there were no COVID implications.”

The Task Force ensured representation from several key AHS teams including the Medical Officers of Health, Environmental Public Health (EPH), Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), Communicable Disease Control (CDC), Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Lab.

Key taskforce initiatives saw Environmental Public Health partner with Provincial Occupational Health and Safety to conduct inspections of the accommodations and food facilities within the bubble.

These were completed over the course of four days prior to the first puck drop – with 40 inspections in all, over the duration of the playoffs.

During the playoffs, the task force continued to review practices and made recommendations for accommodation sites, Rogers Place, ports of arrival and venues visited by the teams — work that spanned from July to the end of September.

“It was challenging with limited time to gather information, make a plan and complete inspections before the bubble was intact “ says Cheryl Galbraith, manager, Safe Food Program, EPH.

“The safety of the public is always our top priority. To help ensure the success of the hub city and the safety of everyone inside and outside the bubble, our Environmental Public Health strike team really put boots on the ground.”

Oilers Entertainment Group and hub accommodation sites were receptive to AHS’ feedback — and IPC protocols were followed thoroughly. The hub also had its own process for swabbing and contact tracing, to ensure there would be no strain on AHS or the surrounding community.

While facing the challenges of competing priorities and the pressures of such a high-profile event, the teams worked as a collective to maintain the integrity of the hub. Routine collaboration and engagement with the NHL-contracted medical team, Alberta Health and AHS ensured proper co-ordination, planning and management of infection-prevention and control activities within the bubble.

“We gained a better understanding and appreciation of the different departments within AHS and their impact on our communities,” says Tash.

Galbraith adds: “I’m really proud of how our teams came together and especially our EPH strike team. We faced increased pressure within our response to the pandemic and built on our relationships within our task force, community and city.”

The spotlight will shine again on Edmonton with the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (Dec. 26 – Jan. 5) — and AHS teams are eager to be part of the hub once again.

“We’re good at working through challenges, despite the pressures,” says Tash.

“We’ll know how to do this even better next time — and are always happy to be part of bringing the community together.”