'The amount of help has just been tremendous.'

Town pitches in after health centre fire


Shortly after fire closed the Kitikmeot Health Centre Aug. 1, residents of Cambridge Bay helped lug stretchers, intravenous drips, electrocardiogram units and everything else needed to provide emergency care into the nearby community hall.

Residents even formed a line across the street to pass cardboard boxes, given by the Northern store, full of medical records to the new location.

And while the centre's 36 staff bustled to establish an emergency care ward inside the hall, a local cab operator would stop in to deliver submarine sandwiches for them to eat.

"The amount of help has just been tremendous," said Michael Burdett, the health centre's director.

On Monday, Aug. 11, Burdett said clinic services should also resume. By then, medical staff are expected to have moved again, to one of two vacant buildings with more space than the hall: either the old health centre, or the vacant boarding home.

Medical staff hope the health centre building will re-open in about a month, after the building has been repaired and properly cleaned.

While the fire marshal's office has not confirmed the cause of the blaze, it's believed to be caused by the incinerator, which was being tested at the time of the fire.

Firefighters tore out part of the wall surrounding the incinerator and chimney to ensure the fire had been fully extinguished. But the building is believed to be structurally sound, said Burdett, who met with fire marshal officials late last week.

"It actually looks quite a lot worst than it really is," Burdett said.

The fire delayed plans to soon open the laboratory, which would allow the health centre to provide such things as blood sample tests for the whole Kitikmeot region. Presently such tests are done in Yellowknife or Edmonton.

"We were just at the point of doing this when we got the fire," Burdett said.

The Kitikmeot Health Centre opened in November 2005, at a cost of nearly $20 million. Since opening it has had its share of setbacks.

In October 2006, after repeated vandalism by young residents to the front entrance of the building, the centre was forced to lock the front door after hours, making the emergency phone inside, used to reach a nurse, no longer available to the public.

And the hospital beds on the second floor have largely gone unused, since there aren't enough doctors to provide 24-7 care, or even enough staff housing in Cambridge Bay for a fully-staffed health centre.

Medical staff have tried to make the most of the second storey by offering a drop-in program for elders who received meals and baths, until the fire. That program has been put on hold since the fire, but Burdett says it will likely resume when the building re-opens.

Burdett says he's just happy the fire wasn't worse. He says the centre has a plan to fully open one day, but they need to move small steps at a time.

"We don't wing it. We do it properly."

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