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Disasters don’t stop for palliative care

02 August 2017

Those requiring acute care or assisted living were all placed out of the general population when more than 10,000 evacuees were registered in Prince George over the last few weeks because of the B.C. wildfires.

Those requiring acute care or assisted living were all placed out of the general population when more than 10,000 evacuees were registered in Prince George over the last few weeks because of the B.C. wildfires.

There were about 90 people who required special care and placed at Gateway Lodge, about 60 from the Williams Lake Seniors Village were relocated to the residence at UNBC called Neyoh while other needing acute care were placed in hospital.

Among those needing special care were four people who were placed in the Prince George Hospice Rotary House.

"End of life journeys don't pause because of disasters," Donna Flood, executive director of the Prince George Hospice Society, said about those who, at the end of their lives, were evacuated from Williams Lake to Prince George.

Flood said she couldn't imagine someone going through their end of life while family members are trying to come to grips with the anticipated loss, and then there's a threat to the home on top of it all which results in everyone being uprooted for safety's sake.

There was one man who was on a cot at the College of New Caledonia (CNC) emergency services centre and he'd forgotten to bring his pain medication. He was suffering from cancer, trying to cope with acute pain.

"So we were lucky that he was identified and we were able to lift him towards us and his wife and at least put them in a room," Flood said. "We were able to react quickly and got permission to expand our services from 10 to 14 beds."

Hospice was notified there were two palliative patients coming from Williams Lake but they wanted to be prepared for the unexpected, she added.

"We really had to scramble to prepare ourselves," Flood said.

"The nurses were fabulous and were on call and made themselves available to come in whenever we needed."

Flood then put out a call through social media that they required four hospital beds and soon enough members of the public were able to provide the extra beds.

"So what we were able to do was bring all these people's families with them, so they weren't displaced and separated," Flood said.

"That's one of the unique opportunities we have - we can keep everybody together."

There are accommodations available for family at hospice so they never have to be separated at such a stressful time and meals are also provided to family, friends and guests.

One of the evacuees did die at the Prince George Hospice.

"And what was important was that everyone could stay together," Flood said.

The circumstance was especially poignant.

"It was just profound loss, after profound loss, after profound loss," Flood said about the evacuees who would be worried about their homes and what state their town would be in when they returned after the wildfire evacuation order was lifted.

At this time, the local hospice society is waiting for the infrastructure to be put in place so that the other three guests in Prince George can be taken back to their hometown of Williams Lake.

"Something else I'm really proud of is that during the evacuation we sent our grief support workers down to CNC because they're experts in children's grief so they went down to the centre with hospice teddy bears to check in with families and let them know that we were there and available."

The grief support workers returned from their time with the children at the centre with some unique insights as they know children don't just grieve death but any kind of loss or separation.

Many children were grieving over the loss of connection to friends and members of some families stayed behind.

Children were fretting about their pets, while there was the underlying worry of not having a home to return to, which concerned everyone but left the children feeling especially vulnerable, Flood explained.

"So we thought about what we should do," Flood said.

"That's when we worked together with Hell Yeah Prince George to create the Party in the Park, Forget the Fire event at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park. Within 72 hours this community came together and created this amazing day for the kids and that's really because we knew they had to normalize. They had to have something to distract them as well as something to distract the parents so they could at least feel like they could offer their kids something. In their generosity the community was unbelievable."


Visit Prince George Citizen for the full story. 

See more articles in Community engagement

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