Fifty-five hospital patients and long-term care home residents are being evacuated from the Northwest Territories to B.C., as Yellowknife undergoes a mass evacuation from a fire threatening the city.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the number of medical evacuees from N.W.T. to B.C. could increase in the coming days.
Dix said the patients, which include pediatric patients, pre- and post-surgical patients, and long-term care home patients and residents, will arrive at Vancouver International airport on flights co-ordinated by the Canadian Armed Forces on Thursday evening, with more arriving Friday morning
Most of the long-term care home patients will be transferred to Mount Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver. Hospital patients will be triaged and assessed at the operations centre at Vancouver Airport.
“At an individual level, it’s an extraordinary trip for someone in a hospital or care home in the Northwest Territories to come down to Vancouver and very difficult for the staff there — of course, mostly challenging for the patients,” said Dix.
Dix said B.C. currently has between 9,400 and 9,700 patients in acute care hospitals and has been working with partners in the N.W.T. to accommodate evacuated patients.
“These are numbers we are able to absorb. These are challenging times of course but it goes without saying that in this country we support other jurisdictions, just as they support us,” he said.
While the majority of evacuees from the territory are being sent to Alberta, B.C Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma said B.C. is ready to welcome more “as needed.”
“B.C. stands ready to provide further assistance to the Northwest Territories. At the same time, we are not letting up on our own wildfire season here in British Columbia. We are preparing for what may be difficult days ahead and we’re ensuring that we have the resources to support people here in B.C.,” she said.
Residents of Yellowknife had been warily watching a nearby fire for days, with some residents pre-emptively leaving the city as a precaution.
The evacuation order was made on Wednesday night, giving people who hadn’t already left the city the official signal that it was time to go. Authorities have asked people to depart the city by noon, local time, on Friday.
The evacuation order affects nearly 22,000 people, with many leaving via car. The closest evacuee reception centre is over 1,100 kilometres from Yellowknife.