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Alberta hospitals, clinics and care homes continue to support N.W.T. wildfire evacuees

With thousands of Northwest Territories wildfire evacuees remaining in Alberta the province continues to provide health care to several hundred displaced residents.

Nearly 70 per cent of people living in the Northwest Territories are out of their homes and, in addition to offering shelter and other supports, Alberta has been providing medical assistance in a number of ways including taking hospital patients and long-term care residents, as well as providing cancer, obstetrical and dialysis care.

“This is a big effort to coordinate care,” said Jennifer Jackson, a registered nurse and assistant professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary.

According to Jackson, memoranda of understanding between Alberta and the Northwest Territories make a logistically challenging process easier.

“Our two jurisdictions are well prepared to do this kind of work because we’ve got longstanding agreements in place,” she said, noting patients are often treated in Alberta when they need specialized care.

“Northwest Territories just doesn’t have the population base to offer specialized brain surgery or specialized procedures that are really in depth. So those patients have been coming to usually Edmonton but also Calgary, Fort McMurray routinely. So while this situation has more urgency we’ve already got a path that has been used before.

In addition, she added, both provinces use electronic medical records.

“So we’re not scrambling to find paper charts, which does make a huge difference,” said Jackson. 

“A lot of medical conditions, whether it be cancer care or dialysis have a very time sensitive treatment plan and therefore it’s very important that people have as few disruptions as possible. What’s made that happen is the expertise of the nurses, physicians, paramedics and all the other health care colleagues who have gone above and beyond to help make these transfers possible.”

Jennifer Jackson is standing in front of a red background, wearing a white blouse, in this profile photo.
Jennifer Jackson, an assistant professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, says longstanding agreements between Alberta and the Northwest Territories help ease a challenging situation (Supplied by Jennifer Jackson)

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), approximately 45 cancer patients from N.W.T. have been supported through the Alberta Cancer Centre Transition Team.

In a statement AHS said it “wants to ensure any cancer patients evacuated from the Northwest Territories are receiving the necessary cancer treatments they require.”

“AHS continues to provide healthcare services to all Northwest Territory residents requiring care as part of the longstanding agreement between the two provinces,” spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.

The health authority has been directing patients from N.W.T., who were expected for assessment or treatment for a cancer diagnosis, to call the transition team (1-888-432-8865).

Four hospitalized patients were transferred initially, 19 dialysis patients are receiving treatment and 30 people are receiving obstetrical care in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer.

AHS said it has also placed 55 people in continuing care and it is able to support up to 200 home care clients.

Other services including addiction and mental health, Indigenous wellness and pharmacy supports continue to be provided at reception centres in Edmonton, High Level, Fort McMurray, Valleyview, Fox Creek, Peace River, and Grande Prairie.

In an update on Tuesday, the City of Calgary said it had registered 3,517 evacuees including 363 seniors and 776 children.

It has the capacity to help up to 5,000 people find shelter and supports and so far the Calgary Emergency Management Agency has provided 1,248 hotel rooms.

It is unclear when displaced patients will be able to return to home. Northwest Territories officials announced a five-phase re-entry plan on Monday, noting the process will take time.

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