Seven doctors and nurses from Newfoundland are in Fort McMurray helping the local hospital expand its ICU and take care of numerous COVID-19 patients.
Nurse practitioner Jennifer Richard is part of the team that started last week at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre. She works alongside an ICU doctor to help admit, care and manage COVID-19 patients.
Right now there are a mix of patients in the ICU, including people with COVID-19 and other ailments.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 250 cases of COVID-19 in Fort McMurray and five in the surrounding rural Wood Buffalo area.
"The feel within the hospital itself, morale seems to still be at an all-time high," said Richard. "That being said, in talking with them, they're certainly fatigued and burnt out in some ways."
She said hopefully the injection of new faces helps boost morale.
Richard previously travelled to Toronto for six weeks to help care for COVID-19 patients there.
"It's extremely beneficial for us to be here, not only to help, but the Toronto experience itself helped us bring a lot of knowledge and information that we were able to share back in our own unit," she said.
"I can't say that I'm completely surprised that we're here. There was certainly a need and we're seeing that here on the ground, but we're just very happy that we were able to mobilize a team to come here and help."
Richard, pointing to the Newfoundland flag being raised in front of the hospital, said everyone has been welcoming to the team coming in.
She will be in Fort McMurray for three weeks.
"I'm so excited to be here. This is what I truly love to do."
Murray Crawford, senior operating officer for the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, said the hospital initially surged from six ICU beds to eight. They've been able to increase that to 10 with the addition of the health-care staff from Newfoundland.
"We filled those 10 beds immediately and now with a few discharges… we're sitting at six occupied beds right now," Crawford said Wednesday.
He said some elective surgeries have been postponed and they've moved some operating room staff to the ICU.
"It's been very busy in the ICU and, believe me, the addition of the Newfoundland-Labrador team has been very welcome."
Crawford said the morale in the hospital is good overall but staff are tired and would "very much like to be over COVID."
"With the addition of two beds it will allow us to keep north zone… patients closer to home," he said. The hospital sometimes sends patients away from the community for treatment.
"It also was very encouraging that our staff would have some relief and an injection of new people coming in with possibly some new ideas," said Crawford.
He pointed to the strong connection between Fort McMurray and Newfoundland — many Newfoundlanders have made the city their home — and said it was a morale booster when the health-care team started showing up on the 8th of October.
The hospital raised the Newfoundland flag when the team arrived.
"It was meant as a show of respect and welcoming," Crawford said.
Colinda Boland has lived in Fort McMurray since 2003 after moving from St. John's, N.L.
When she heard nurses came in from her home province she was proud that Newfoundland had stepped up to help.
It didn't surprise her to hear Newfoundlanders were coming.
"We just help," she said. "We're just there to help wherever help is needed."
Premier Jason Kenney tweeted his thanks to Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday afternoon.