Region prepares for 2011 flood

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Plan for your health before the water starts to rise

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Wednesday March 30, 2011

Planning and preparations efforts to date have the Winnipeg Health Region well positioned to handle the effects of spring flooding, while keeping disruptions to care and services minimal, according to the Region's Director of Disaster Management. 

Tom McCormack says the latest projection, released last week, shows that southern Manitoba could experience flooding similar to 2009. However, he says staff throughout the Region have been working for weeks to develop detailed plans to overcome potential flood-related problems.

"We are using the most current flood forecast information from the province and the City of Winnipeg," says McCormack. "We've looked at how services could potentially be impacted and have developed sequential contingency plans. We are focused on the continuity of health care."

Region planners have taken into account a number of factors that could affect the delivery of care and services, ranging from surgeries in hospitals to care in nursing homes. The plan includes a variety of scenarios for moving whole facilities, programs, patients and residents, along with necessary equipment to serve their care needs in a variety of temporary locations. Should the need arise, any part of the plan can be put into place quickly.

Winnipeg's rivers are expected to start rising soon. As of today, the risk of flooding at health-care facilities close to either the Red or Assiniboine rivers, including St. Boniface Hospital, Misericordia Health Centre and St. Norbert Personal Care Home, appears minimal.  

In the case of St. Boniface, two buildings that supply all the electricity to the hospital are at greatest risk of flooding. However, it is believed the existing dike system will be adequate to protect against rising water levels. At Misericordia, meanwhile, it is also expected that existing flood protection measures will keep everything dry. However, plans are in place to move residents living at its Interim Care Unit should these conditions change.

Among the dozens of health care facilities in Winnipeg, St. Norbert Personal Care Home, located near the Red River, continues to face the highest risk of flooding. If conditions deteriorate, it may become necessary to move all 91 residents from the home to other locations within the city.

"While we remain confident in the advice we're receiving from the experts around the additional flood protection efforts surrounding these facilities, should it ever be necessary, we have some very comprehensive plans that cover the many services at St. Boniface Hospital. We've also identified appropriate spaces in our Region if we have to evacuate residents of St. Norbert Personal Care Home and Misericordia Health Centre's Interim Care facility," says Réal Cloutier, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Long Term Care and Community Area Services for the Region.

"Moving people in care safely from one setting to another takes time," says Cloutier.  "And while the risk of any Winnipeg health-care facility flooding is very low, we may out of an abundance of caution decide to move some people if conditions at these locations change significantly."

Another challenge is accommodating the health needs of people from other places around Manitoba being evacuated to Winnipeg to wait out potential flooding in their communities.

Part of the Region's preparations for this is rooted in a reception centre being planned for Winnipeg. Working with staff from the province's Department of Family Services and the Canadian Red Cross, the Region will provide health and social services as well as psychosocial support to evacuees. The reception centre's location will be the Century Arena in Fort Garry. Its opening date is yet to be determined. Health Region staff are currently being trained in providing psychological first aid to people who face loosing their homes, possessions and even livelihoods to flooding.

McCormack says the flood plan represents a tremendous amount of work on the part of a lot of people throughout the Region. "I'm very proud of the Winnipeg Health Region. Planning for a potential flood situation is not a normal activity," says McCormack. "They've risen to the occasion. The way everyone has applied their knowledge and expertise to respond to a potential flood event is truly amazing."

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