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Chilliwack General Hospital staff adapt and thrive during flood crisis

Doctors, nurses and admin staff had to respond to rapidly-changing circumstances over 48 hours

For 48 hours during the worst of the Abbotsford flooding, things changed at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH).

Doctors, nurses and administration staff found themselves cut off from the rest of B.C.

Dr. Mark Ballard and a short-staffed team of healthcare professionals had to improvise on the fly.

“We had to revert back to some more ‘traditional’ ways to care for people,” he said.

In normal times, Ballard is one of 10 internal medicine physicians who work at CGH, and you’ll often find them in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Dr. Mark Ballard and a team of doctors, nurses and administrative staff adapted to rapidly-changing circumstances during the first 48 hours of the flooding crisis.

One of the things they do is treat heart attack patients.

“We often bring them to CGH, assess them, and then drive them very quickly to Royal Columbian Hospital (in New Westminster),” Ballard said. “They get their angiogram and stent, and they’re returned to us. But during the flood, we lost access to roads and air support, and we had to treat those people the same way we’d treat them if we were in northern British Columbia.”

Doctors had to administer ‘clot buster’ medication to heart attack patients, which wasn’t a fix, but bought them some time.

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“It melts the clot inside the heart, but eventually they still needed to go to Royal Columbian for the stent,” said Ballard, who described the clot buster as a bridging medication. “We were having to adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances where we didn’t have access to the treatments we usually have access to, and it was quite courageous for some of our physicians, practicing in a way that we haven’t had to in Fraser Health for quite a few years.”

Manpower was a significant issue.

Dr. Mark Ballard, an internal medicine physician working at Chilliwack General Hospital, was airlifted over the Sumas Prairie flooding after battling through a challenging but rewarding 48 hours. (submitted photo)

Most of the internal medicine physicians live in Abbotsford, and once Highway 1 was cut off by flooding at Whatcom, only two remained on the Chilliwack side. Ballard was the only one at CGH.

On any given day, there’s usually three around the hospital.

As Ballard was tending to his doctor duties, he also had problems to worry about at his home in Abbotsford. While his house was above the worst of the flooding, torrential rainwater rushing downhill formed a waterfall in his backyard and damaged his garage.

“Not only are you in a rapidly-changing work situation, but I was totally cut off from getting home and had no idea what was happening to my family,” he said. “But at times like that you have to focus on what’s within your sphere of influence, and the only thing I could take control of was what was in front of me in the workplace. The patient in front of you is the one who needs you, and so you focus on that and trust that the family will look after themselves.”

Thankfully, his family was OK, and once essential services were able to begin moving around and over the flooding, the situation at CGH settled.

At one point, Ballard was airlifted over the waters, from CGH to Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

He marvelled at the marshalling of resources, and how everyone pulled together in the crisis.

“The biggest thing I take from this is that in the face of adversity healthcare workers stepped up to the plate, and I’ve developed a huge amount of trust for them,” he said. “That trust is something I’ll take forward for many, many years. While it was a stressful situation, it was very enjoyable to know that we were there for our community. It was great to be there with our colleagues, all of us going through this situation that none of us had ever gone through.

“The camaraderie with the other doctors and nurses and administrative staff was quite amazing.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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