It was the epitome of a team effort.

When thousands of evacuees from Saskatchewan’s north came to Saskatoon at the end of June, forced to leave their homes because of approaching forest fires, a host of agencies stepped forward to help them, from the Red Cross to the Ministries of Health and Social Services. Saskatoon Health Region stepped up to ensure the evacuees had access to medical services.

Cots stacked in a soccer centre

Evacuation centres like this one,at the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre in Saskatoon, have been packed up as evacuees return to their homes in the north.

Now, with the fire situation more manageable in the north, the evacuees have all gone home. The centres that once housed hundreds stand empty.

The departure of the last of the evacuees last week brought to a close Saskatoon Health Region’s efforts to care for these special visitors to our community. And there are many people deserving of high praise for all that they did while the evacuees were here.

“I’m just so proud of the team effort that our Region gave in looking after these special visitors to Saskatoon,” said Dan Florizone, president and CEO of Saskatoon Health Region. “They were faced with a terrible situation – the possible loss of their homes and livelihoods. We wanted to make sure that they did not have to worry about accessing health care on top of all that, and thanks to our fantastic employees, they didn’t. We have great people in this Health Region, and they showed their true colours with their efforts over the past month.”thank-you-note-from-Dan

Hospitals, long term care homes in Saskatoon (Extendicare and Parkridge) and in rural parts of the Region like Strasbourg, the Region’s Primary Health, Public Health, Mental Health and Addictions services, First Nations and Métis Health Services, and leadership community – facilities and staff from all of these areas and more volunteered to help.

“As a system overall, we responded very well to the increased demand for service,” said Lori Frank, director of enterprise risk management for Saskatoon Health Region. “We worked not only collaboratively within the health region to ensure an appropriate response to the needs that came forward, and with other agencies, as well. We could not have done what we did without everyone having their hands on deck, including our partners.”

At the beginning of the evacuation, the Primary Care Health Bus was at the scene to serve the evacuees, but as the evacuation stretched on, clinics were set up at each of the evacuation sites, and nurse practitioners visited evacuees staying in local hotels.

Managers, directors and seniors leaders from across the Region rescheduled their regular work to provide leadership at the evacuation sites, and help out in any way they could. Doctors from Saskatoon, as well as from across the province, stepped up to help out, and evacuees who worked for other health regions even came forward and helped out at the centres.

Out-of-scope clinical managers volunteered to help at the clinics, and many report having a great experience.

“People just went the extra mile,” Frank said. “They’ve sent me messages of how proud they are to be part of this organization and to take part in this effort. I think our moral compass is showing to the broader community after so many stepped up to do whatever was required.”

In fact, more staff volunteered than were actually needed to help.

“They signed up and were ready and willing to help, but then people started going home,” Frank said. “We were prepared to go for at least another week longer, if we needed to.”

Mental Health and Addictions Service from Saskatoon Health Region and other agencies became more and more vital to caring for the evacuees as time went on, Frank indicated, and the worries of the evacuees began to mount.

“They were experiencing a lot of stress, and that’s so understandable,” Frank said. “They were wondering what was going to happen to their homes, and when they were going to be able to go home. About eight days in, we needed to beef up our support around mental health and addictions.”

The Region’s First Nations and Métis Health Services also played a very important role in helping the evacuees, as many of those removed from their homes are from First Nations communities.

“Our team from First Nations and Metis Health Services were really helpful liaisons between the evacuees and the health services we offer. They were able to work with a lot of people right on the ground.”

The Region’s courier system even helped out, ensuring wheelchairs and walkers were getting to those who needed them at the evacuation centres and hotels.

“Our facilities team made sure we had hand sanitizer stations at the evacuation sites and everything we needed – it truly was a Region-wide effort,” Frank said.

Saskatoon dealt with nearly every health region in the province during the evacuation of the north.

“We worked especially closely with Mamawetan Churchill River and Keewatin Yathe Health Regions, as well as Prince Albert Parkland,” Frank said, “and we worked with a huge number of agencies – the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Prince Albert Grand Council, Health Canada, the City of Saskatoon and others as specific needs arose.”

The hotel industry in Saskatoon is also deserving of praise, Frank noted.

“The hotels where evacuees were staying were extremely accommodating,” she said. “They helped our staff set up pop-up clinics in their space, and helped us where we needed it.”

EMS partners from all over the province also helped immensely, Frank noted, with both the evacuation and repatriation of those needing an ambulance for transport out of and back to their northern communities.

Now that the evacuation is done, Frank’s Emergency Preparedness team will be taking the learnings gained from this long evacuation, and working with their counterparts to improve upon the processes the Region already has.

“Just in case we have a long, complex evacuation like this in the future,” Frank said.