When Dr. Corrigan and her colleagues were given the order to evacuate the local hospital the next day, on May 6, a skeleton staff stayed to keep the ER open, and lab and housekeeping were instructed to close and leave. “We were told at 8:15 p.m. that we needed to leave the hospital and town while maintenance staff had to lock up and secure the facility. The fire was only 10 kilometres from town, so we had to move fast.”
Heading to safety and setting up a temporary clinic
Whitecourt, which is roughly 84 km southeast of Fox Creek, was the designated evacuation centre, and that’s where most of the community headed immediately, including many of the local physicians. Some colleagues in Edmonton reached out to offer places to stay, and a few physicians accepted the offer for the weekend to rest and prepare for the week ahead.
“On Monday morning, we had a meeting with the local physicians in Whitecourt and figured out processes.” As the physicians on call, Dr. Corrigan and her colleague Dr. Tania Cilliers needed to remain in Whitecourt and wanted to stay close in case residents were allowed to return to Fox Creek and the hospital had to be reopened. “One of our colleagues who lives in Whitecourt offered us accommodation and after we settled in, we started contacting patients who had clinic appointments. The next day we met as a group of physicians with our clinic staff, which included two MOAs and a practice nurse.” After that meeting, the decision was made to open a satellite clinic to care for patients. “We knew people through the primary care network and learned that a local clinic had exam rooms available because one of the physicians was away on holiday,” explains Dr. Corrigan. “They gave us equipment and space, so we were able to set up a temporary clinic to serve the patients that had made their way to Whitecourt.” Dr. Corrigan stresses that their MOAs and their practice nurse sacrificed time with their own families to ensure patients received the care they needed. “The Whitecourt physicians welcomed us and took on an extra workload, and the brand new PCN ED and local PCN office staff jumped right in and provided support.”
The McLeod River Primary Care Network, which serves her region, played a key role in ensuring continuity of care for patients. “They began posting updates on social media to keep patients informed and sent information to the Town of Fox Creek, so they could share it out, too.” Dr. Corrigan explains that the maintenance manager for the Fox Creek hospital had to travel there daily to check on the facility so was able to bring necessary medication and equipment back to the satellite clinic in Whitecourt as needed.
“Our practice nurse worked out of space in the PCN office and pulled contact information from the clinic panel to connect with our elderly and vulnerable patients.” They discovered one of their elderly patients needed a wheelchair and another needed oxygen, so the clinic arranged both. Some patients were getting low on medication, so the clinic worked with the Fox Creek pharmacy to transfer prescriptions. “In less than a week, we had our clinic up and running,” recalls Dr. Corrigan. “And most of our patients knew where to find us and get what they needed.” The local PCN also worked to connect evacuees with social workers, who offered information on available supports including counselling and financial programs.
By Monday, May 15, Dr. Corrigan and her colleagues had established a fully functioning clinic. “We were able to do wounds and biopsies and most of the other things we could do in our regular clinic.” The PCN transferred over calls, so they could also answer inquiries, book appointments and direct people to other resources as necessary. Not surprisingly, the demand on local services increased so, with the help of the local chief of staff and medical director, Dr. Corrigan secured hospital privileges and began working with Dr. Van Schalkwyk in the Whitecourt Health Care Centre ER in the afternoons to help with the extra load. “From the local ER to the local pharmacy, they did whatever needed to be done, so I was happy to help wherever I could,” recalls Dr. Corrigan.