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Evacuation of Fort Smith care home criticized

The Northern Lights Special Care Home in Fort Smith in June 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Northern Lights Special Care Home in Fort Smith in June 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

A woman from Fort Smith is raising concerns over the evacuation of Elders from a long-term care facility in the community.

The territory’s health and social services authority said late last month that residents of the Northern Lights special care home were being moved from Fort Smith “out of an abundance of caution” as wildfires burned outside the community.

On Sunday, the health authority said a group of those residents had since returned and “assessment for further repatriation” was ongoing.

Donna Bourque questioned how Elders were transported and whether the evacuation was carried out safely.

“They acted really quickly,” Bourque said.



“People in Smith are concerned about the escort.”

Bourque said residents’ family members were not consulted about the move, and Elders were moved by road through smoky and dusty conditions with no ambulance escort. She added that vehicles are not allowed to stop or use bathrooms on a stretch of the highway between Fort Smith and Hay River, due to an anthrax outbreak among bison in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Bourque said at least one family would have preferred to have their mother stay with them in Fort Smith.

“I would like to see the families being consulted,” she said.



“There’s something terribly, terribly wrong that they would disrespect our Elders the way they did. This is a disrespect not only to the Elders, but to our people.”

Bourque wants to meet with the premier and health minister to ask questions about the evacuation.

Health authority ‘stands by’ decisions

David Maguire, a spokesperson for the territory’s health and social services authority, said in an email that 10 nurses and resident care aides, as well as three volunteers, travelled with the long-term care home residents to Hay River. The convoy involved nine vehicles, Maguire added, including a wheelchair van and a minibus.

 “We recognize that families care deeply about their loved ones who are in our care. We also care about these residents and take our duty to ensure their safety very seriously,” he wrote.

“In this specific situation – with a back burn planned and indicators that highway access may be impacted by wildfire – time was not a luxury we were afforded, so notification of families needed to be undertaken concurrent to the move of individuals to ensure resident safety.”

Maguire said the safety of residents was the top priority when planning the evacuation, and the main goal was to get them out of Fort Smith early rather than during an emergency.

The authority also looked at moving residents by plane, he said, but finding aircraft to accommodate a large group of people with complex needs at short notice was difficult.

“While the fire situation in Fort Smith has not developed into a more serious threat, we stand by the decision to be cautious and move these residents based on the information and resources we had at the time,” Maguire continued.

“If this situation were to escalate, moving people with complex needs in the midst of an emergency would have presented more risk and complication.”