May 18, 2016
Story by Erika Sherk; Photo by Shelly Piper
LAC LA BICHE - At the Bold Centre in Lac La Biche, thousands of evacuees have come through, seeking shelter, rest, food and health care. They’ve received all of that and even better - friendship.
“A couple of times I have almost cried my eyes out over what people have done, for not only me, but everyone around here,” says Cory Callaghan, 56. “It’s definitely pulled at my heart strings and my emotions.”
Callaghan, a double amputee, was attending Alberta Health Services’(AHS) Adult Day Program in Fort McMurray on Tuesday, May 3. “We were doing our normal group thing and then all of sudden we were evacuating,” he says.
The wildfires in the area were getting too close to the city. The next day Callaghan got on a bus for Lac La Biche, arriving at the Bold Centre, where a reception centre had been prepared for the evacuees.
Lee-Ann Giacobbo, a clerk from Lac La Biche was one of the AHS team who helped organize the centre. “I was asked to come here to set up and I told them I pretty much can’t leave - I want to help as many people as possible,” says Giacobbo. “Even if it’s just to make them laugh and smile.”
Diane Verville, area manager for senior’s health, was involved in setting up the medical centre on-site. Verville had helped set up a reception centre in Calling Lake in 2015 to receive evacuees from the Wabasca wildfires.
She put that knowledge to work in Lac La Biche with her team quickly setting up a room with computers and equipment, organizing scheduling, bringing in staff and designing paperwork to track everything. “We started with public health, home care, admitting and mental health,” she says. Staffing was managed as the days went by, depending on the number of evacuees and their medical needs.
“The main thing was to get enough staff there to help the people of Fort McMurray coming in,” Verville says. “We started with public health, home care, admitting and mental health. We worked as a team and I think the whole process went smoothly.”
Callaghan says he’s been impressed by the care he has received at the centre.
“AHS has been very good to me,” he says. “I didn’t know how long we’d be evacuated for so I only brought three or four days’ worth of medication. I came up to some AHS staff to refill my prescriptions and they were phenomenal. I feel like the King of England. I don’t mean to be first in line because of my disability, but they have really gone above and beyond.”
Verville says they worked hard from the start to keep excellent organization and communication going. “People were asking lots of questions and keeping communication tight. We kept each other updated so we always knew what was happening.”
The atmosphere at the centre has been upbeat, despite everything people have gone through.
“There’s so much positivity here,” says Giacobbo. “The evacuees are my heroes because of their strength, their courage, their love for their family.”
Callaghan is one of them, she says. “Cory, he just has this positive energy that makes you want to be around him. He is just filled with optimism.”
Verville herself says that despite the challenges there have been bright spots. She has had lots of family from Fort McMurray staying at her acreage. “I have evacuees in my own yard,” she says. “I had about 30 to start and now I’m down to 10. It kind of felt like Christmas the first few days.”
Callaghan, for his part is eager to get back to Fort McMurray, a community that has treated him well.
“I want to help the city rebuild,” he says. “If I can drag a mop around or a broom around, I will do that to help the city out for what it’s done for me. I want to show the community spirit that was shown to me here in Lac La Biche.”