HELP in Fort McMurray keeps on trucking despite flood and pandemic

By Caroline Wagner, Communications Advisor, Alberta
When the muddy water from nearby rivers spilled into Fort McMurray in late April, some made its way into the Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) depot there.
At its height, the freezing floodwater stood more than a metre deep in the building.
“It hurt my heart,” says Penny Simms, assistant coordinator with the HELP in Fort McMurray, describing the sight of wheelchairs and walkers caked with silt and mud.
Rebuilding Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) office in Fort McMurray
“I’ve been here right from the beginning because we only opened in November of 2019,” she adds, “and it really broke my heart to see the devastation that water could do to all of that equipment.”
The Health Equipment Loan Program provides a variety of medical equipment, from bath to mobility aids, to people recovering from injury or illness at home.
But Penny isn’t letting the recent flood stop her from getting that vital equipment to people who need it.
Working out of a temporary office in Fort McMurray, Penny continues to run the program with help from her colleagues in Edmonton. Referrals are sent to the Edm­onton HELP depot, where staff and volunteers set aside the required equipment. A driver brings it to Penny on Wednesdays, and on Thursdays clients are assisted by appointment.
Of course, the flood isn’t the only issue that Penny and her team are dealing with. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she has been working in a mask and gloves and making sure everyone follows physical distancing protocols.
She says it’s been a tough couple for months for some of her clients.
“It’s been a crazy time in Fort McMurray”, she explains, “because we are dealing with the pandemic, and then we had the flood, and because of the flood many areas were under a boil water advisory too... so it’s like a triple whammy.”
But she adds that she’s grateful that she can continue to help.
“Our clients still have a smile on their face, through everything, and that’s a bonus right there.”
Some of the equipment that was stored on upper shelves in the HELP office is still okay, but right now, there is no timeline for reopening the building.
You can find  more information on the Health Equipment Loan Program on our website.
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