Merritt woman frustrated after elderly family members in care home sent on 11-hour wildfire evac | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Merritt woman frustrated after elderly family members in care home sent on 11-hour wildfire evac

The Florentine in Merritt is seen in this image from Google Street View.
August 24, 2021 - 7:30 AM

A Merritt resident whose senior family members have been evacuated to the Lower Mainland because of wildfire is frustrated at how the situation was handled.

Ellen Miller’s mother and mother-in-law were evacuated from The Florentine care home last week when an alert came into effect for the entire City of Merritt due to the Lytton Creek wildfire, located to the west of the city. The Florentine is currently being administered by the health authority.

Since Friday, Aug. 13, Interior Health has relocated long-term care residents from Armstrong, Lillooet, 100 Mile House, Merritt and West Kelowna due to wildfire threats.

In each of these instances, families are being contacted directly and provided details of their loved one’s temporary location, contact information and ongoing care, according to the health authority's press release issued, Aug. 16.

Miller said she and her husband were not notified when her family was evacuated Aug. 16 until two days later. Her mother and mother-in-law were first sent to Kelowna, then to Summerland as flights were cancelled due to smoky conditions and then back to Kelowna to catch a flight to the Lower Mainland. It took them roughly 11 hours to get them there, she said.

“The whole situation was handled so wrong and we have so many seniors suffering because of this, it’s just sad,” she said.

Her mother-in-law has Parkinson's disease and dementia, and Miller believes her health has deteriorated because of the evacuation, she said.

Miller sent an email, Aug. 22, addressed to Interior Health’s Florentine care home administrator Matt Renfrew but hasn’t yet received a response. She also published the letter on Facebook.

“My 93-year-old mother-in-law was put on a bus in her pyjamas, with no coat, confused and scared,” she wrote.

Her mother is currently in White Rock and her mother-in-law is in Delta.

She’s also concerned about when they can return since she hasn’t heard anything from either The Florentine or Interior Health.

“All we want to know is OK, when are you bringing them back and how are you bringing them back and nobody has been contacting any of the families. There’s just no communication at all,” Miller said.

“Wildfires are unpredictable and their behaviour is challenging to predict over time. Since many care home residents cannot evacuate through traditional means, it is crucial for Interior Health to proactively move residents out of harm's way well before evacuation orders come into effect," a statement from Interior Health reads. "In many cases, care home residents require accompanying staff, equipment and 24/7 care. Therefore, exceptionally proactive decision making is required to ensure we have time to proactively relocate people potentially threatened by wildfires.”

"Working with other health authorities, it was important to identify sites for residents away from current wildfire activity. Residents were supported by health authority staff who travelled with them," the health authority wrote.

“Decisions on residents returning to their care homes will depend on the wildfire situation and Interior Health will have more to share in the coming days,” the health authority said. Primarily contacts of residents will be informed.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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