Wildfire Debrief: Discussing the achievements and challenges of recent evacuations in the Okanagan

On Monday, September 18th, BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) and EngAge BC hosted a Wildfire Debrief, which served as a timely discussion in highlighting both the achievements and challenges of the recent wildfire evacuations in the Interior. In addition to members of the Interior Administrators Network (IAN), our session was joined by Joanna Harrison and Vanda Urban from Interior Health, Suzanne Gardner Clark from Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), and Ross Hayward from the Ministry of Health.

In the discussion, care operators universally commended Interior Health for their leadership and dedication during the crisis, especially in providing resources and helping with communication. It was also noted that the coordination of emergency response efforts has improved from year to year. We took a moment to acknowledge the hardships and trauma endured during evacuations, underlining the immense teamwork and partnerships that made a difference.

A major part of our discussion centred on the complex task of coordinating transportation logistics. We looked at factors like ensuring transportation was well-coordinated, safe and timely given the limited mobility of residents. It was clear that successful coordination depended on strong partnerships with entities like BC Transit, BC Ambulance, the regional health authority and between care operators themselves. The health authority outlined the rationale for their requests for detailed information on transport requirements. Additionally, we explored ways to enhance transportation capabilities during emergencies, including using buses owned by different care communities and addressing insurance considerations. There was a proposal to establish a centralized list of transportation resources for easier access, and we discussed the possibility of increasing the number of drivers with class four licenses. The need to coordinate the transportation of beds and other equipment was also discussed; leveraging the armed forces was identified as a potential solution.

The importance of communication was emphasized throughout the discussion. It was stressed that there is a real importance in the availability of a contact person 24/7 in each care home. We also discussed the idea of creating standardized templates for Ambulatory status, as well as providing regular communication to help providers prepare for emergencies.

One issue brought to light was the difficulty in receiving timely information about changes to evacuation plans. Care operators were receiving notice at the same time as families and residents, resulting in confusion and lack of preparedness in responding to those families and residents. It was emphasized that early notifications about such changes are crucial for effective communication.

Workforce shortages were noted as an ongoing challenge, before, during and after the emergency period. Some care providers attempted to bring in nurses from other provinces to support but faced barriers to registration with BCCNM (despite the availability of temporary emergency registration). Volunteers were given a well-deserved recognition for their vital role in supporting logistics during relocations and repatriations. We highlighted the importance of mobilizing volunteers, both from staff and the families of residents.

Challenges with repatriation were noted; in particular, the process is bureaucratic and time-consuming. The importance of returning residents to their own care community as soon as possible was emphasized, given their vulnerable health status.

Funding challenges were noted, as they limit the ability of care providers to secure sufficient staff, equipment, and resources. It was noted that the Ministry of Health is consulting with BCCPA on their work to revamp the long-term care funding model. BCCPA noted that there is a need for the Ministry and Health Authorities to reimburse care providers for additional costs incurred (e.g., equipment, overtime, additional staffing, travel costs for staff).

We thank those who attended the meeting for providing their insights, feedback, and suggestions. We look forward to continuing to work together to improve evacuation planning in long-term care.

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