'Unprecedented': After Humboldt Broncos deaths, Sask. Health preparing for long recovery
‘This has changed the lives of hundreds,' health authority CEO says long-term response needed
It was a level of trauma no amount of training could prepare them for.
That's what the head of Saskatchewan's healthcare system is saying of those who responded to the devastating Humboldt Broncos bus crash on Friday.
The system needs to provide ample supports for those who worked during the emergency response, said Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone.
Sixteen died and 13 received varying injuries after a collision between the Broncos bus and a tractor trailer.
'We have not seen a mass casualty of this nature in the province in my 30 years of working in healthcare. It is one of the most significant events ever," Livingstone said.
"It's unprecedented in our province's history."
Things moved fast after the collision and despite the carnage and chaos of the crash scene, a doctor who was at Nipawin hospital when the third of eight air ambulances that landed all over the province that night said the atmosphere indoors was calm.
This was thanks to the triage and rapid response of emergency personnel who made judgment calls on the seriousness of injuries and transported the victims accordingly, as well as hospital staff who were prepared for "code orange," which means a response to critically ill patients all arriving at the same time, according to doctor Mark Wahba.
Wahba's voice broke as he said his heart is with the families and patients affected by the tragedy, and with colleagues and all "who are working so hard to attend to those who are suffering."
Many involved in the response minimize their role, seeing themselves as a small part of a massive effort. Among them is Andrea Robertson, the president and CEO of STARS Air Ambulance.
"You think of all the RCMP, the first responders — from to EMS to volunteers, to firefighters, to police, to the hospital — we played a small part but we were very glad to be there and be a part of it," she said.
With 72 hours separating healthcare professionals from the immediate aftermath of the crash, officials said they were both proud of their agencies' responses.
"The system worked exactly how it was supposed to work and people were cared for exactly how they should be cared for," Livingstone said.
However, he said he is also aware of the long-term consequences of such a traumatic response.
"We know beyond the event itself this has changed the lives of hundreds of people in our communities across this province, and outside the province. And it's not something that's gonna be done today or tomorrow and it's how we plan through it in that recovery phase," he said.
"I'm not sure we could do anything to prepare a human being for what has happened in this province on Friday night. It's why it's so important to follow up on a long-term basis."
Virtually every provincial ministry is involved in a coordinated response to the Bronco crash, Livingstone said.
He said the 1986 fatal Swift Current Broncos crash equipped the province with lessons that are being used today.
Dealt an emotional blow
This isn't the biggest crisis response Robertson has ever been involved in, but she said it hits her personnel hard.
"I think what is catastrophic in this incident is the impact on such a small and tight-knit community of hockey, the degree of young people involved, all the families and coaches across two provinces," she said.
The degrees of separation are small in prairie provinces, she said, and the aftercare for staff starts as soon as they take the call.
The need for debriefs for all involved, including pilots, is noted immediately, she said. Longer-term care is led by STARS' own specially trained physicians.
Meanwhile, two groups that deal with people who have witnessed or experienced trauma in their careers have teamed up to create the Humboldt First Responder Fund.
Wounded Warriors and TEMA have already raised more than $22,000 toward their goal of providing mental health support for first responders to the Broncos crash.
The programs available to first responders will include equine therapy, a peer support and family assistance fund and trauma resilience programming.