Mobile hospital coming to Ottawa for Canada Day crowds

As Ottawa prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for Canada Day weekend, Ontario's Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) is coming to the rescue.

Province's Emergency Medical Assistance Team setting up behind city hall

Members of the Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) set up their mobile hospital beside Ottawa City Hall. The city is expecting a surge in visitors this weekend for Canada Day. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

As Ottawa prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for Canada Day weekend, Ontario's Emergency Medical Assistance Team (EMAT) is coming to the rescue.

The influx of tourists will mean an extra strain on local hospitals and the EMAT will fill the gaps from their makeshift camp beside Ottawa City Hall.

"Our primary role is to be surge support for the Ottawa hospitals," said Dr. Bruce Sawadsky, EMAT's medical director.

The fenced-off area behind city hall consists of tents, generators and all the other equipment and personnel needed to run an all-weather hospital.

Dr. Bruce Sawadsky is the medical director of EMAT. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"What we set up is a field hospital. We have a small emergency department, a small short-stay unit for patients who need to be on a stretcher to get hydrated or other treatments," said Sawadsky. "We can manage anything from minor to an intensive care unit patient in this field hospital."

Sawadsky said this is one of the largest teams they've deployed.

The camp is equipped with 14 beds and a waiting area for patients, much like an emergency department. It will be staffed by two doctors at all times, in addition to nurses, paramedics, social workers and an X-ray technician.

Busier on a hot day

How busy staff will be depends partly on the weather.

"If the weather's hot, we see a lot of heat-related illness, traumatic injuries. In the evening sometimes, a lot of intoxication or drug-related issues with patients. So a whole wide variety," said Sawadsky.

Generators are set up outside the tents that will house the EMAT on Canada Day weekend in Ottawa. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

EMAT — the first of its kind in Canada — was created in 2004 by the Ontario government to respond in the event of an infectious disease outbreak, disaster or other health emergency.

Patrick Auger is Incident Commander for EMAT. He's plenty familiar with the challenges of providing mobile health care — not only is his "day job" as a flight paramedic for Ornge, but he has also been working with EMAT for more than a decade.

Patrick Auger is the incident commander for the EMAT unit. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

"We've had a number of operational deployments," said Auger. "Everything from assisting with clinical screening with Syrian refugees at airports — which doesn't require this tent infrastructure — to providing mental health assistance and medical surge capacity up in Attawapiskat last year. We've assisted evacuation of northern reserves for forest fires, flooding."

Auger said that setting up camp in Ottawa on Canada Day came with a unique set of challenges.

"In this particular case, as you're well aware, there's quite a few infrastructure shortages in Ottawa. Whether it be hotel rooms or buildings of opportunity," he said. "So it required us setting up perimeter fencing and actually doing a full structural setup."