In May, the residents of Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation were ordered to evacuate due to flooding and in support of those affected, an evacuation centre was opened in Yellowknife.
During this period, six aircraft charters, six medevac trips, and three busses were deployed to ensure over 40 HRSSA patients, long term care and supported living residents were cared for and able to continue accessing care and services while out of their home community. Of the 719 registered evacuees in Yellowknife, there were 236 who stayed at the Multiplex Arena and over 300 were served with meals by staff and volunteers.
This work involved collaboration with the City of Yellowknife, local health and social services staff, the NWT’s MedResponse service, and many others. Ensuring patients – especially those in long term care – had a safe place to go with the supports they needed ready to go was a priority on top of setting up the evacuation centre. Specifically for Long Term Care residents were accommodated in multiple different communities including Fort Smith, Norman Wells, Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife to ensure available rooms and staffing to support their needs.
There was also close collaboration between the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and the NTHSSA to ensure evacuees with unique medical needs – such as dialysis patients – had a smooth transfer of care while they were out of their home community.
Sandy Little, the Territorial Manager for Mental Health & Community Wellness, describes the importance of providing mental health services and the contributions of NTHSSA and the Department of Health and Social Services staff in providing skilled and caring mental health counsellors.
“The team set up a quiet/reflective room with activities, wellness messages and resources: this room became a beacon for children and families, and it was a popular area for crafts and informal debriefing. A second, smaller room was set up for 1-on-1 grounding or counselling support. We connected people with elders and a talking circle at the nearby Arctic Indigenous Wellness Camp. The evacuees shared a great deal of peer support and contributed to a Gratitude Wall – posting notes about things they could appreciate and marshalling their resilience in the midst of so much stress and loss.”
Sandy notes that a big part of the mental wellness work was, “being present, visible and available to listen as people arrived, received hospitality, and navigated essential services.”
Fort Smith and Dehcho regions also contributed to the efforts to support Hay River. The Fort Smith Health and Social Services Authority sent two mental health counsellors to Hay River to support the debriefing and counselling after residents had returned to the community, and in coordination with the Town of Fort Smith and MACA welcomed approximately 50 evacuees during the flooding. Dehcho region also sent staff to Hay River, prepared stress relief packages, and set up an on-call phone support line for the evacuees at the Snowshoe Inn.
Erin Griffiths, CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, highlights the hard work and dedication given to the community: “On behalf of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone at the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority and the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency for your leadership, your time and your efforts in supporting not only our clients and residents, but our community as a whole. We recognize the momentous task and effort it took for your teams to provide evacuation support and services to our displaced residents, clients and community members.
Thank you to everyone who contributed their time, talent and resources to help our community during this time. This has certainly been an event that none of us will soon forget, and I am proud of all that has been accomplished together.”