Forest fires force more patients north

Northern Health has been working find additional space and support for the growing number of hospital patients and seniors in care now in the city due to the wildfires to the south.

After taking in about 100 acute care patients and seniors at the start of the week, the number has grown to about 175 as Williams Lake in particular continues to be threatened by a pair of massive forest fires.

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"We've brought in beds, we've brought in additional staff and support and we're putting patients in almost all of our facilities," Northern Health spokesman Steve Raper said Wednesday.

They've included the Gateway, which has taken in 90 people, as well Simon Fraser, Rainbow and Jubilee facilities. Even then student residence at University of Northern British Columbia has been deployed - it's now an assisted living home for about 50 seniors.

A clinic has also been set up at the College of New Caledonia. Services there include mental health and addictions support in addition to basic care to ease the pressure on the emergency room at University Hospital of Northern B.C.

Blood work, x-ray and ultrasound services can also be arranged at the site which is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and with a registered nurse available around the clock.

In terms of staffing, Raper said many at Northern Health have gone "above and beyond."

"People have canceled their holidays to support and help out and cover shifts and people are working overtime and extra time so it really has been all hands on deck," Raper said.

Many are also volunteering for tasks outside their usual scope of work.

"If we need somebody to drive one of our fleet vehicles to move people around from spot to spot, for example, we're getting that type of thing happening," Raper said.

In light of the increase in patient numbers, Prince George residents are being asked to turn to their family physicians, nurse practitioners or local walk in clinics to meet their non-emergency health care needs.

Those who aren't sure whether their condition would warrant an emergency room visit, or who need health advice, can call HealthLink BC (8-1-1), or visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca for non-emergency health information 24 hours a day, seven days per week.

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