B.C.’s frail elderly vulnerable as wildfires rage across province

A little over a week ago, a number of major forest fires started burning across the province. The Province of BC has since declared a State of Emergency.

The impact of the fires has been most felt by the residents living within the Interior Health Region. A number of care homes and home care operators and the seniors they are responsible for have been impacted by severely reduced air quality and the proximity of the blaze.

In Williams Lake, one of our member care homes has been evacuated with the residents being transported to Prince George. Reports coming in from other communities indicate that a number of other frail seniors have been impacted by the wildfires, which in many cases are still burning out of control.

“There are several key issues care providers are facing during this crisis,” says Daniel Fontaine, CEO for the BC Care Providers. “However, the first priority is ensuring the safety and security of the seniors, many of whom have significant mobility challenges and are living with dementia.”

“These types of catastrophic events are very challenging, but when you factor in that many of these people are living with Dementia, this can become a critical issue for the care team,” adds Fontaine. “The sudden loss of familiar surroundings, people and environments can have very negative health effects on a frail elderly person.”

The BCCPA has reached out to our members in the Interior Health Region in an attempt to assess how many homes have been impacted by the wildfires. While it can be a challenge to gather critical information during this hectic period, all care homes are fully prepared with emergency response plans to deal with these types of scenarios.

“Care homes regularly plan for and are prepared for these types of emergencies,” says Fontaine. “Given the mobility challenges facing the seniors we care for, our members are expected to be prepared to deal with a number of catastrophic events, which include earthquakes and fires.”

Home care providers will also face key challenges during a period when air quality is very poor in a particular region.

“Many home care clients, who are living with respiratory challenges, are hit particularly hard during a wildfire, even if they are living far away from its epicentre,” says Fontaine. “The smoke can drift for hundreds of miles and make it much more challenging to breathe.”

Care providers are also faced with the practical reality that many of their staff will not be able to show up for work due to the fact they have either been evacuated themselves, or they are at home trying to protect or gather their personal belongings.

The BCCPA was advised that some care homes and assisted living operators have been making empty units available to the Interior Health Authority for temporary use. Amir Hemani, COO of Berwick Retirement Communities in Kamloops, reports that attempts have been made to transfer some residents to his site, but transporting the seniors there is proving to be a major challenge.

“These are certainly challenging times for thousands of seniors impacted by the fire and smoke,” says Fontaine. “We remain hopeful that these fires will be brought under control soon and that everyone in the community can return back to their homes as soon as possible.”