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Points West Living rallies to welcome
Alberta wildfire evacuees (Updated)

June 7th, 2019

On Saturday June 1st Points West Living Wetaskiwin was drawn into the frontline emergency response to northern Alberta’s wildfires. As the fires threatened the community of La Crete (670 km north of Edmonton), 18 vulnerable seniors from the area were airlifted to Edmonton International Airport and transferred by ambulance to PWL Wetaskiwin.

[Update (June 12, 2019): Evacuees head home! On June 11, six evacuees left PWL Wetaskiwin in the Alberta Health Services (AHS) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Multi-Patient Emergency Response Unit bus/ambulance. 6 more left on June 12, and the others are booked to travel over the next couple of days.]

Helping evacuees feel safe, secure, and cared for

The late-night welcome they received when they arrived at PWL Wetaskiwin was the result of scores of individuals who said ‘yes’ to giving up their weekend plans to help the evacuees feel safe, secure and cared for.

PWL Wetaskiwin opened just under a year ago, and has 52 full time residents – and 30 available suites. As the wildfire crisis unfolded, the community was put on standby to receive as many as 26 evacuees if the need arose.

“The first evacuee arrived about 10-PM,” says PWL Wetaskiwin General Manager Tamara Thomas. “I really felt for them. They’d already gone through a lot, and I was trying to see it from their perspective. A few of them were able to talk about the experience.”

A turbulant journey

To the seniors, most of whom are living with dementia, the journey was an anxious one, as they were transported on stretchers by air ambulance on a turbulent flight through rain, lightning, and thunder, and transferred to land ambulances for the final leg of their journey.

To compound the sense of displacement, many of the evacuees speak little or no English. The largest group is from La Crete’s German-speaking Mennonite community. “We have one employee care partner who speaks German, and she came in,” says Tamara. “And some evacuees had families that either came to visit or sent others to visit them.”

There are also a handful of indigenous evacuees,” says Tamara, “and I called a family member of one of our residents and she came and spoke Cree with them.” Being able to communicate with care partners and the community in their own language has made a huge difference to the evacuees’ ability to settle.

“The evacuees had gone through so much, and here was the whole town and everyone pulling together,” says Tamara. “It was kind of an emotional experience.” The generosity of the extended community continues, with Bethany Group from Camrose donating clothes and nice cozy blankets, and members of the local Mennonite community coming to visit the evacuees.

A long list of supporters

Tamara is not sure how long the evacuees will be staying, but she’s very grateful they were given - and continue to receive - such a wealth of the community support. Here are some of the individuals and organizations involved:
In the few hours of preparation time, Alberta Health Services coordinated the evacuees and beds, linens, equipment, and Case Managers to accommodate the evacuees; The City of Wetaskiwin provided volunteers and firefighters to help unload the hospital beds and set them up in the empty suites; Pharmacare provided personal care products and medication for those who came empty-handed or whose bags were misplaced; Employee care partners from PWL Stettler, and several people from Points West Living’s Home Office in Edmonton came to help prepare; Several employee care partners from PWL Wetaskiwin came in after hours to help; and Food Services teams stepped up to ensure nobody would go hungry.

Photo: GM Tamara Thomas was able to greet wildfire evacuee Abraham Dyck at the door when he arrived the night of June 1st. She says he was cheerful in spite of the day's upheaval, and was able to walk in with the paramedics.

More photos at Flickr: Points West Living rallies to welcome wildfire evacuees

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