Health, social services working to help Humboldt rebuild

By Saturday afternoon on April 7, 2018, a small memorial had been set up on the entrance stairs leading into the Elgar Petersen hockey arena in Humboldt, Sask. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Health care providers, counsellors and social services resources are mobilizing to help those affected by the tragic bus crash that killed 15 on Friday

Health and social services personnel, along with the Red Cross are heading to Humboldt and other affected communities across Saskatchewan to assist communities with their rebuilding efforts following the tragic junior hockey bus crash that left 15 people dead and 14 injured.

A bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos Junior A Hockey Team and staff collided with a semi-tractor trailer near Tisdale Friday night. The team was on its way to Nipawin to play Game 5 in a playoff series against the Hawks.

While the RCMP continued to investigate at the scene, health and social services were coordinating what they’re now calling a recovery effort for those impacted by the tragedy.

“Now our focus will be shifting primarily towards a recovery effort, with a strong focus towards Humboldt,” said Duane McKay, commissioner of emergency management and fire safety with the MInistry of Government Relations.

“We have people on their way down there now to help, as we see the impact beginning to take place in that community.”

Emergency management has been coordinating the provincial response. Friday night, while first responders and rural health care practitioners were working to triage and stabilize crash victims, Heather Miazga received a phone call. She was the clinical director on call in Saskatoon Friday night. It was 6 p.m. multiple casualties were coming her way.

She went to work with staff, figuring out what the emergency department had, and what they might need.

“When we started to hear what the numbers were sounding like coming in, we initiated the incident command centre so we could get all the right services into place and the coordinated communication in order to be able to efficiently run a good response,” she said.

“When we looked at the numbers needing to be cared for, the Code Orange was called.”

Code Orange is used when multiple victims are coming in. It allows the hospitals to reach out to staff to increase capacity and services provided. While Miazga was impressed with how well the big city hospitals worked together, she also credited the rural health care providers for their professionalism in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

“I’d like to acknowledge our rural partners and the remarkable work they did in Nipawin and Tisdale … to triage and stabilize the patients that needed to come to us,” she said.

“Without that, we couldn’t have done our job.”

She also thanked the transport teams, including STARS in Saskatchewan and air ambulances from Alberta, as well as the ground transport partners.

STARS also contributed their communications centre, allowing hospital staff to stay in constant communication as the situation unfolded.

“Knowing how busy volumes are, the three emergency and acute centres in Saskatoon all pulled together to be able to efficiently care for the patients coming in that were quite critical,” she said.

“Everyone worked well together, right from entry through to ICU, emergency, the operating room, right up to the unit. A lot of credit to our teams who came in and helped to care for patients that came through our doors.”

Dr. Susan Shaw, a chief medical officer with the health authority in Saskatoon, said medical professionals from across Saskatchewan came together to free up space in the Saskatoon emergency rooms and units.

“While we were seeing a lot of important work being done in Saskatoon, hospitals across the province were able to pitch in and help take on additional patients so there would be capacity. I’m very proud of that,” she said.

“I really did see physicians and teams come together. There were immediate offers of support as soon as the news went out.”

One of those physicians working through the night was Dr. Hassan Masri. He posted his account to Facebook before speaking to several news outlets. He described the night as the “longest, worst and most tragic” of his career.

“Meeting each family and explaining the extent of each injury was nothing short of a painful exercise of cruelty.”

Masri thanked the ER nurses first and foremost, for saving many and comforting hundreds of others. He also thanked the physicians, from surgeons to specialists, who came into work, or called in and insisted that they be called in if they could help. He thanked respiratory therapists, the health authority, social workers and everyday residents who helped beyond what would normally be expected.

“May this be my first and final Code Orange,” he wrote. “Never want to see what I saw again. What an honour to know that you all have helped save a large number of lives. Thank you everyone and may those painful hours be followed by many many hours and days of healing.”

That healing will be necessary for so many, from the families and friends of those involved in the collision to the first responders, doctors and nurses who helped so many that night.

According to Tracy Muggli, director of mental health and addictions services for the Saskatchewan Health Authority in Saskatoon, that work is underway.

“We’ve been working closely with a community-based organization … in Humboldt, compiling resources together,” she said.

“There’s about a dozen people at the Humboldt centre qualified to provide psychological support. We also have supports at our Saskatoon hospitals for those needing supports for their loved ones.”

Further supports have been put in place for medical staff in Saskatoon and in the rural areas where they first cared for the victims. Specialized trauma councillors are being made available for school partners across the province if needed.

A renowned expert in trauma within the school setting was en route to Humboldt Saturday afternoon. Kevin Cameron also provided support after the La Loche shooting.

While the players live, work and go to school within Humboldt during the hockey season, they come from across western Canada. Many others within Saskatchewan and beyond have experienced emotional responses to the crash.

“We have been getting calls, even nationally, from those who have been emotionally impacted by this incident, not because they have direct association, but because they’ve been triggered,” Muggli said.

“We’ve asked them to please contact their local health authority or call the health line at 811.”

For families needing assistance accessing food or accommodations while tending to their loved ones in Saskatoon, the Red Cross and Emergency Social Services are providing blankets, hygiene products, teddy bears, support for lodgings and support for meals.