Fort McMurray residents will return to community with access to health care thanks to unique facility

Early next month, residents displaced by a massive wildfire will return to Fort McMurray, although their community won’t be the same and still won’t be fully functional in terms of access to public services.

However, thanks to a unique facility put together in an incredibly short period of time, they will have access to a surprisingly wide range of health care services.

ChangSha Night Net

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    Alberta Health Services (AHS) EMS Fleet Operations team set up a series of tent-like portable shelters, which now make up the Fort McMurray Urgent Care Centre outside the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre.

    A 10-person team of AHS staff from Calgary and Edmonton created the series of Portable Isolation Containment Systems (PICS).

    READ MORE: Heroic measures praised during the Fort McMurray hospital evacuation

    The facility was needed after the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, Fort McMurray’s only hospital, was evacuated as the wildfire ripped through the community.

    READ MORE: ‘We got the job done’: Nurse describes Fort McMurray hospital evacuation

    The portable, inter-connected units offer clean air, clean water and enough space to deliver health care services in a community expected to face smoky conditions and a lack of clean water for some time yet.

    The facility is made up of four 20-by-40-foot rectangular shelters, five 20-by-20-foot octagon shelters and five hallways to connect the units. The facility also features a HEPA-filtered HVAC system, heating, air conditioning, a generator for power supply as well as interior lighting.

    A look at the temporary Fort McMurray Urgent Care Centre.

    COURTESY: AHS

    “The urgent care facility that we’ve set up over the last couple of weeks in Fort McMurray is working excellently,” David Mador, AHS’ vice president and medical director for northern Alberta, said. “We’re quite pleased with the functionality and we’ve been able to recreate a full-service emergency department.”

    According to AHS, the Urgent Care Centre is a crucial piece of infrastructure not only for when some evacuees return, but also in the interim because it provides health care access to first responders and people helping to rebuild the community in the wake of the disaster.

    “Despite the fact that the majority of the population had left Fort McMurray, we’re still left with a lot of people in the area requiring emergency services but we did not have a hospital and so from our perspective, it was critical that we create capacity to deliver urgent and emergent care to the folks that were there and to prepare for the return of people back into Fort McMurray if we couldn’t get back into the hospital in a prompt fashion,” Mador said.

    According to AHS, the Urgent Care Centre is capable of dealing with a significant number of health care demands with its emergency care, laboratory services, X-ray and CT-scan capabilities. It also has an operating room which can be used if life or limb-threatening conditions mean surgery needs to be completed before a patient can be transferred to hospital.

    A look at the temporary Fort McMurray Urgent Care Centre.

    COURTESY: AHS

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    In most cases, however, patients who need a higher level of care will be transported to Edmonton by ground and air ambulance until Fort McMurray’s Northern Lights Regional Health Centre re-opens. Mador said 400 people are currently working to clean that hospital as well as recalibrate the HVAC system and restore utilities there. He hopes at least the emergency department and diagnostic imaging and lab area will be able to open around the time the first wave of residents return.

    READ MORE: Phased re-entry into Fort McMurray after wildfire to begin June 1

    The centre has more than 30 patient care spaces and has already treated nearly 200 patients since it opened on May 14. AHS said staffing will soon increase in order to allow the facility to care for as many as 150 patients per day.

    There are currently 27 staff members working at the facility.

    This is not the first time AHS has used the PICS system to put together a temporary health care facility. It was used as a temporary emergency department at Edmonton’s Grey Nuns Community Hospital when the permanent emergency department was being renovated, as a pediatric emergency department at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital, as an assessment unit at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, and as an assessment unit during a measles outbreak in the South Zone in 2013.

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