The Cariboo Chilcotin Regional Hospital District has reached out to Interior Health over its “proactive” evacuations of care homes across the province.
Chair Bob Simpson made a call last week to Interior Health president Susan Brown, following questions from board members about the health authority’s proactive evacuations, which included relocating long-term care home residents from 100 Mile House’s Fischer Place and Mill Site Lodge to the Lower Mainland on Aug. 14.
The move was made despite the fact there was no evacuation alert or order for the 100 Mile area – something that rankled the 100 Mile mayor.
“To add insult to injury I was having their staff phone me and asking ‘when are you guys evacuating?’” 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall told the hospital board Friday. “I was like, we’re not we’re not even on alert.”
Al Richmond, director for 108 Mile-Lac La Hache, said he also received calls about whether 108 Mile was being evacuated.
“It sent a shockwave through the community. It was a bit mystifying and disconcerting to residents when we weren’t even on alert,” Richmond said. “It just goes to show the anxiety people were going through with the fires. It’s the continuation of 2017 and people’s fear about what’s going on.”
Margo Wagner, director for Forest Grove-Canim Lake, said it was worth asking if other jurisdictions faced similar situations.
Simpson said his mother was also moved from a Kelowna care home to the floor of a dowtown care home for three nights while firefighters battled a wildfire in that city.
“There’s something weird in their system where they’re making decisions about presumptive evacuations where no rhyme or reason for the threat or the risk or the fire is,” said Simpson, who also questioned why people were moved to the Lower Mainland when Quesnel had beds available.
Interior Health said in an email to the Free Press that it worked with Vancouver Coastal Health, Providence Health, Fraser and Northern Health to identify relocation options “away from current fire activity to minimize the risk of needing to relocate clients more than once.”
“Proactive relocations occur to protect our most vulnerable care home residents, hospital patients, and community health clients,” the email said.
“Wildfires are unpredictable and their behaviour is challenging to predict over time. Since many care home residents cannot evacuate through traditional means, it is crucial for Interior Health to proactively move residents out of harm’s way well before evacuation orders come into effect.”
Interior Health said staff and a physician also travelled with the residents.
“In many cases, care home residents require accompanying staff, equipment, and 24/7 care. Therefore, exceptionally proactive decision-making is required to ensure we have time to proactively relocate people potentially threatened by wildfires.”
Campsall did not return repeated requests for an interview with the Free Press.
However, Simpson noted that in his discussion with Brown, she had cited various factors for the proactive evacuations, including the prolonged heat wave, the proximity and erratic activity of the Flat Lake fire, and the potential of road closures to the south due to fires or mudslides.
The Coquihalla Highway was closed the next day due to wildfires, while a mudslide near Spence Bridge closed Highway 1 the following day.
“They looked across the spectrum and thought ‘we don’t have the resources, we have to get people to safety,’” Simpson said. “The one area that had a pocket of stability was the Lower Mainland.”
Simpson said the situation underscores the need to refine the communications between Interior Health and local governments as well as emergency operations.
“It’s us understanding how these health decisions are going to be made,” he said.