British Columbia

Care home evacuees housed in basement with mattresses on floor and no AC, relatives say

The nephew of a long-term care home resident in Castlegar, B.C., is criticizing Interior Health for moving his uncle to a basement with no air conditioning and mattresses on the floor during a wildfire evacuation order on Thursday. 

Residents were quickly moved out of home as wildfire threatened Castlegar, B.C., last week

Gord Zaitsoff greets his uncle, Paul Zaitsoff, as he returns to his long-term care home after it was evacuated because of a wildfire. Gord Zaitsoff says the basement where residents like his uncle were temporarily placed was unacceptable. (CBC News)

The nephew of a long-term care home resident in Castlegar, B.C., is criticizing Interior Health for moving his uncle to a basement with no air conditioning and just mattresses on the floor during a wildfire evacuation order this past week. 

On Thursday, the Castleview Care Centre, along with several other properties in the area, was put under evacuation order as a the Merry Creek wildfire came within eight kilometres of the city. 

The centre is operated by Chantelle Management and houses 60 people. Forty-five of those spaces are publicly funded through Interior Health. With the help of staff, family and volunteers, the residents were quickly moved to Castlegar's Community Complex. 

Gord Zaitsoff says his uncle Paul Zaitsoff, who was born with cerebral palsy, has been a resident at the centre for about 20 years. Zaitsoff found out the that his uncle had been transferred to the complex the day after it happened. 

"My sister went down and it was very unpleasant for the seniors that are in this facility," he said, adding that many of the residents have mobility issues and would have struggled with getting up from a mattress on the floor.

Zaitsoff wonders why the residents weren't at least moved to another part of the complex, which was set aside for registering evacuees. He said it is fully air conditioned and was mostly empty at the time. 

'No assistance'

Staff at the care centre quickly jumped into action to move the residents, Zaitsoff says, calling family and friends to volunteer to help move the residents to their new temporary location. 

The fire in Castlegar, B.C., got close enough to the city to prompt evacuation orders in some neighbourhoods. (Submitted)

"I think everyone was caught off guard because of the fire situation," he said.

"But the staff here had to deal on their own. There was no assistance from Interior Health, absolutely nothing." 

In a written statement, Interior Health said it "recognizes that the fire in Castlegar was incredibly stressful for residents and their families and for the staff and physicians who provide their care."

The health authority said the first priority for care home operators is to get residents out of harm's way, adding that wildfires are fast moving and unpredictable. 

When questioned further about its choice of temporary accommodation for the care home residents, Interior Health said Monday that potential sites are "considered and evaluated based on several factors and the specific needs and requirements of the situation."

"In this instance, IH worked with the care home operator to ensure Castleview residents were evacuated safely and quickly, and additional steps were taken to consider client comfort, including bringing mattresses and other supports from the home to the temporary site," the health authority said in a statement.

All care homes must have evacuation plans in place as part of provincial licensing requirements, it said.

Castlegar Mayor Kirk Duff said the relocation of seniors to the community complex was done extremely well. 

'A little too close to home'

Andrew Roberts was one of the volunteers who helped bring residents back to the care home on Sunday. Roberts, who runs a truck driving school, says he used some of his trucks to help return some of their equipment. 

"It's important that we all help each other out," Roberts said. "And when you get extreme circumstances like this, it's just that much easier when we all work together." 

Roberts says the wildfire was immediately aggressive as it approached town. 

"This was just a little too close to home, I think, for everyone," he said. 

With files from Carolyn Dunn