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Washed-out roads posing challenge for health district

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/7/2014 (1113 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Those in need of help may have to wait longer than usual, but — whether by helicopter or by boat — police and health officials say they’ll find a way to get through, despite roads that are washed out or closed due to flooding.

Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson says some hospital, clinic and home-care staff haven’t been able to make it to work in the province’s southwest.

“Probably our biggest challenge has been staff who can’t get to work due to washed-out roads,” Gilson said, adding staff have logged a lot of overtime to cover for stranded colleagues. “The good news is all of our sites are managing.”

More than 78 provincial roads have been closed or affected by flooding in some way.

“There’s a number of people and communities that have access issues out west,” Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization executive director Lee Spencer said.

“That’s just due to the very dynamic nature of the roads opening and closing, and the number of bridges that have been impacted by the flash flooding.”

Roads are especially a concern in the area between Virden, the Saskatchewan boundary, the U.S. border and east of Hartney.

Despite that, Gilson said, all health facilities remain open and none have been evacuated so far. However, Gilson said the RHA is tracking available beds and has transportation — such as emergency vehicles and handi-vans — ready to go if an evacuation is needed.

The health authority is in constant contact with municipalities to monitor road conditions.

Gilson said there are some locations that ambulances may not be able to reach, including Pierson and Tilston, and there’s only one route into Hartney.

RCMP may lead ambulances into areas it believes to be safe.

Otherwise, the province has based a helicopter in Brandon that can be used to fly out patients when ambulances can’t reach them. It’s ready to go at 30 minutes notice during the day, and with an hour notice at night.

The chopper was stationed in Brandon as of 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday but, as of late Wednesday morning, it hasn’t been used for a medical call yet.

Gilson said she wasn’t aware of longer response times due to flooded roads. However, she said, it stands to reason that there’s a potential for a longer response if a washed out road lies along a regular route.

To avoid response problems, the RHA has ensured that the ambulance units based in Melita and Deloraine are both staffed. To make sure ambulances remain in their area, patients will be relayed from one to another.

Some home-care workers currently can’t reach their clients. But in such cases, there is a backup plan that consists of alternate caregivers stepping in, such as family members.

“All home-care clients right now are being managed OK … it depends, of course, how long the access issue continues,” Gilson said.

Gilson said she’s not aware of any clients or patients who have died or had their conditions worsen because medical staff couldn’t reach them.

Mounties also have a plan for situations like this.

“We’ve had to be a little bit creative to find our way to certain communities … It delays the response somewhat, but we’re still able to respond within a relatively short time frame,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Pritchett, an advisory NCO with the West District office based in Dauphin.

The figure for any delay isn’t available. It depends on where a call comes from, relative to where officers are at the moment.

Officers in Virden, Melita, Reston, Souris and Hamiota face challenges with road closures.

RCMP members have been creative and found routes they wouldn’t normally use, Pritchett said.

Also, officers from detachments adjacent to the flood-stricken area can be called in for as quick a response as possible, Pritchett said. Officers from such areas as Russell, Killarney, Neepawa and Minnedosa can be called in as needed.

In Virden, RCMP members have been helping with the flood fight itself — helping with evacuations, for example. Officers from other areas have been called in to provide Virden members some relief.

Mounties also have the option of using that Brandon-based helicopter if needed, and the Office of the Fire Commissioner and some local fire departments have boats available at short notice.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @IanHitchen

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