It took two days for the team to cross some of BC’s snowiest highways, but the Mobile Medical Unit made it to the Northern BC town of Kitimat for its longest deployment since the program began in 2011.
For 12 weeks, from mid-November through mid-February 2014, the MMU will serve as the temporary emergency department at Kitimat General Hospital (KGH), while its own ER undergoes renovation. The renovations will include the creation of an observation room, a clinical workstation, and a medication and storage room, among many other upgrades. The MMU offers the same level of care delivered in the stationary ER at KGH.
A shared resource by each of the six health authorities, the MMU fulfills five roles, including renovation support, helping to facilitate continuity of care within the communities it serves. This is the third planned renovation mission for the MMU, previous ones taking place in Cranbrook (IH) and Pemberton (VCH). The MMU also supported emergency repairs at Surrey Memorial Hospital, following flooding that resulted in a 10-day closure of the facility’s ER in November 2012.
In addition to being the longest trip to-date, this marks the first time the MMU has been used in extreme cold and snow since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, further validating its range of capability as a truly provincial resource.
But the extreme weather doesn’t come without its challenges: ensuring the safety of the MMU site, including keeping patients warm and the snow and ice build up to a minimum is a top priority. Because the MMU has expanding walls, the floors cannot be insulated, which means cold air can be trapped underneath the outreached walls making the facility quite chilly. As a result, the unit was outfitted with “skirts” all the way around the bottom and an industrial heater was placed underneath the MMU so the temperature inside stays stable, ensuring a safe and warm environment for patients and staff.
The length of the deployment also brings its own challenges. In past deployments, the team would always have at least one person on-site at all times, but with the extended length of this deployment, it is not feasible. To manage this, the team has adapted by delivering intensive training for the facility staff at KGH so that they can maintain day-to-day operations and troubleshoot any challenges faced. The MMU team remains on-call for support from Vancouver, and visits every couple of weeks to check in and ensure everything is running smoothly from an operational standpoint.
By the end of 2013, the MMU will have been on the road nearly 150 days of the year, up from 75 in 2012.