“It’s hard to put into words – the ripple effects of recent wildfires and flash floods in Nova Scotia,” says Haley Jeffery, emergency management coordinator at Halifax Regional Municipality.
Jeffrey and her team introduced a community hub at the St. Margaret’s Bay Centre in June. Here, Nova Scotians can receive support and access critical resources as they move through long-term recovery.
Open through summer, partners involved include HRM, Mental Health and Addictions (IWK and Nova Scotia Health), Red Cross, United Way, Nova Scotia Power, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
“People are still finding places to live and navigating insurance,” says Nadine McMullin, a clinical social worker with IWK’s Central Referral service who is supporting the hub.
“We also knew people wouldn’t be accessing mental health services right away. It takes time to work through the emotional upheaval of having to evacuate and we recognize that down the road we’re going to see the longer-term effects of trauma.”
In addition to accessing mental health or insurance support, residents have questions about everything from the risks of displaced wildlife to water and soil testing and funding allocation.
McMullin is one of several MHA clinicians who came forward when her manager asked for staff to help onsite at the Community Hub. “Nova Scotians really look out for each other, especially when something difficult or tragic happens. People will step up and do what they can,” she says.
McMullin was among the 17,000 evacuated. She and her family live across from Westwood Hills where the wildfires began. “It was terrifying,” she says, “We live in a densely populated subdivision with only two exits, so our initial concern was getting out in time.”
Today, one of those two exits is blocked due to flooding – anxiety-inducing for some residents still getting their footing following the fires.
According to trauma experts at IWK Health, the need for mental health services often shows up in the aftermath of an event – sometimes even months later.
Holly Murphy is the advanced practice leader for Trauma Informed Care at the IWK. She says the hub offers a critical service in helping families understand that it’s normal to take time to grieve, adjust, rebuild, and recover after a disaster or emergency.
“Many people recover on their own over time while others may need extra support. It is important to know we are here to help and when to ask for help.”
– Holly Murphy, advanced practice leader, Trauma Informed Care
“You may wish to speak to a healthcare provider or mental health professional if you are noticing that these experiences are having a persistent or severe impact on your child’s daily life and functioning ability. You know your child or youth best. We are here to partner with you if you need help,” says Murphy.
Clinicians from the IWK and Nova Scotia Health are onsite Wednesday afternoons from 1:00 to 4:00 PM to support families in person.
McMullin says MHA teams are anticipating an uptake in related referrals this fall.
“Some kids are terrified to leave the house. They’re scared a fire is going to erupt at any time. Others have friends and family members who have lost their homes, so this is very real for them,” she says.
The hub demonstrates community organizations rallying together quickly in an unprecedented way locally. This collaborative team is supporting wellness, and resilience, and helping families navigate the right supports, including mental health services.
“As hospitals provide a critical service to the community, HRM recognizes IWK as critical infrastructure. HRM prioritizes hospitals when planning for response activities with our valued stakeholders inclusive of utility companies, emergency response agencies and public health representatives,” Jeffrey says, “but this was new territory. I’m proud of our community organizations coming together so quickly and effectively.”
The community hub is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday, until further notice. Residents may contact the community hub by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (902 476 5315). For more information, visit Halifax.ca/fire. To access mental health or addiction support, call the provincial referral line (1 888 429 8167).