May 10, 2016 2:31 pm
Updated: May 12, 2016 12:50 am

Alberta health officials focusing on mental health assistance in wake of Fort McMurray wildfire

WATCH ABOVE: With thousands of Fort McMurray residents forced to flee their community and take refuge in evacuation centers across the province, many are in need of care - and that means health care too. Dr. Karen Grimsrud joined Global News Morning to explain how Alberta Health Services is helping the evacuees.


EDMONTON – The Fort McMurray wildfire has destroyed homes and buildings, it’s forced thousands of people out of their communities and it’s caused great stress on those who have been affected.

“Traumatic events like the Fort McMurray fire really are physical effects as well as the mental health issues that come up,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Karen Grimsrud said.

This understanding has Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health focusing on providing mental health support to those affected through several avenues.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray wildfire: Edmonton Expo Centre sees 16,200 evacuees

“Evacuation centres, for example, there are the mental health support workers that are there,” Grimsrud said.

Edmonton’s Expo Centre evacuation centre, for example, where 16,200 people have used the facility, has crisis councillors on hand to help those who need it.

“We are seeing some use of it, and as I think time progresses we may see more and more use of that, which is fine. We’re happy to support individuals in times when they need,” Dr. Chris Sikora, AHS medical officer of health, said.

Watch below: People who fled the Fort McMurray wildfire are getting help with money, lodging and clothing but many are wondering how to help evacuees with their mental health. A local trauma expert says it’s important to get evacuees talking – especially those with pre-existing mental health or addiction issues. As Su-Ling Goh reports, the expert has four steps for family and friends to help prevent what she calls a “psychological fallout.”

Mental health support is not only being provided to evacuees but first responders and workers at the Northlands evacuation centre.

“They’re exposed to people that have been through a lot and it kind of tugs at the heart string at times,” Gerry Clarke, emergency reception centre manager, said.

“Part of this medium and long term plan will be to ensure that firefigthers and other first responders have the mental health supports that they need,” Grimsrud said.

READ MORE: Video, pictures of Fort McMurray wildfire damage media tour

Additionally, an AHS website offers information on how to get mental health support.

© 2016 Global News

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