“The risks in 2019 are real” CIUSSS emergency relief teams recruiting staff

Apostolia Petropoulos

Health and social service disasters don’t discriminate, they can strike at any time—and in any place.

That’s why our CIUSSS has two emergency teams who are trained and ready to mobilize anywhere within the network’s territory in the wake of a crisis.

“The risks in 2019 are real,” says Christian Samoisette, Emergency Measures and Civil Security Advisor. “We have to anticipate any scenario, from a natural climatic disaster such as an ice storm, to an accident involving a derailment or an infrastructure breakdown affecting drinking water, to criminal acts such as a terrorist attack.”

“In any of these events and many more besides, the population in our territory will be impacted in one way or another,” points out Mr. Samoisette. “So we’re looking for people who are prepared to take action on the ground.”

The groups of health and social service professionals from our CIUSSS were formed pre-emptively by the Department of Global Security to support our regional, municipal and community partners in civil protection in the event of a disaster. These nursing and psychosocial intervention teams may be called upon to deploy at very short notice to temporary accommodation centres or other locations, as needed, to provide care to the populations in these establishments.

Team membership is voluntary but the position is remunerated. Common training is provided in civil security. Psychosocial team members, social workers, social assistance technicians, psycho-educators or psychologists receive disaster-specific psychosocial intervention training.

In addition to the common training, members of the nursing team also have access to first-aid instruction customized to disaster relief, including mass triage, so that they are equipped to support Urgences-Santé if necessary.

“We’re very proud of the contribution of our emergency deployment teams,” says Mr. Samoisette. “During the Syrian refugee crisis, we played a key role in cooperation with civil security partners in helping scores of asylum seekers who needed health and social-service assistance within our territory, and even beyond. We have so many devoted and skilled staff throughout our network who would make a wonderful addition to our emergency teams. If you are interested in joining, there is a place for you!”

Recruited staff are placed on a recall list and are contacted via text message, email or telephone, according to their preference. Training takes place at various locations throughout the network during fall and spring.

For more information, staff are encouraged to contact Mr. Samoisette at 514-934-0505 ext. 7521 or via Outlook.

Refreshing return to clinical roots

It was a clear departure from her day-to-day work environment. A social worker based out of CLSC René-Cassin serving geriatric home care clients found herself in a converted hospital emergency room helping families who had recently fled from a war-torn country. And yet, she did not feel at all out of her element.

“I had had some experience in crisis centres, so I was comfortable confronting something I wasn’t familiar with,” Apostolia Petropoulos recalls of her weeks-long experience in the winter of 2016 joining emergency teams that had mobilized during the Syrian refugee operation. “I can wear the hat of an Emergency Measures social worker as well. Most of us have that in our tool set.”

Ms. Petropoulos, who is now at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre, had received an email along with nursing and psychosocial colleagues throughout the network, requesting volunteers to help with the crisis. Asylum seekers, most of whom were sponsored by their families, converged at the former Royal Victoria Hospital emergency department, which has been transformed into greeting point.

Nursing teams performed triage to determine if any immediate medical follow-up was needed among refugees, connecting them to CLSCs or physicians. Meanwhile, the psychosocial team screened the new arrivals for post-traumatic stress disorder. They also served as liaisons with community organizations responsible for securing essential needs such as shelter and winter clothing.

“Helping in a crisis seemed like an interesting thing to do, because wherever you came from professionally, be it enfance-jeunesse, school or geriatric, psychiatry, home care or hospital—at that point, you all become generalists,” explains Ms. Petropoulos. “It was a welcome return to our clinical experience, of going through the evaluation tools were given at earlier stages in our career.”

Ms. Petropoulos became a psycho-social team lead, one of two ‘ground leaders’ in her field, because, she says, there was a need to help train the newcomers. Instruction is provided on several levels, including a basic training on what to expect in the aftermath of a crisis. They review logistical details, such as who team members answer to, and confirm that participants are up-to-date in their vaccinations. The training also covers how to manage stress during an operation, particularly as, she points out, “some crises last a long time and we may see difficult things.”

The emergency teams are prepared to respond to any level of crisis, whether protracted or punctual. As an example of when a more modest commitment was needed, Ms. Petropoulos cites the flooding that occurred in the West-Island during the summer of 2017. During that period, the CIUSSS West Island requested a supplement to their teams of a single professional at each makeshift shelter.

A greater involvement was called for when PRAIDA received a heavy influx of Haitian asylum seekers last year. During that operation, our network provided crucial administrative support, says Ms. Petropoulos.  

Of a summertime building evacuation in the Côte-des-Neiges area, Ms. Petropoulos describes the teams’ intervention to help the typically at-risk inhabitants of low-income housing. Public safety nurses checked vitals to make sure people were not dehydrated. Social workers identified inhabitants who were susceptible to trauma as they were compelled to leave their home. They also flagged seniors who were living alone.

“The nursing and psycho-social teams really come together as professionals in a case like this, blending our complementary skills,” she remarks. “We’re meeting colleagues from different departments, from completely different areas of social work, and bonding with people we would have never have crossed paths with. We all treat each other as equals.”

“Belonging to emergency relief teams, we feel the more direct impact of our clinical risk assessment skills than in our day-to-day routine,” notes Ms. Petropoulos. “It’s a nice reminder that ‘we’ve still got it’. It’s beautiful.”