RM OF ENNISKILLEN - The Rural Municipality of Enniskillen has acquired property at 119 Railway Avenue in Oxbow and is hoping to open a primary health and wellness centre as early as this winter for the residents of Oxbow and all neighbouring rural communities.
The project is being done in partnership between the RM, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and the Galloway Health Centre in Oxbow.
"The reeve and council are pleased to announce the collaboration of this new facility," said RM administrator Pamela Bartlett. "This partnership is greatly needed to ensure that our community stays viable. This collaboration with the health authority and health centre will also ensure that the needs of our local emergency medical responders and primary care paramedics will be met through adequate housing, transportation, training and office space."
Bartlett added that while the idea of the creation of an EMS base with living quarters was around for about 10 years and fundraising for it was ongoing, the building acquisition "happened quite quickly."
"This has been something that has been needed for more than 10 years. And so, the right building came up and just suited the needs," Bartlett said. "Due to COVID, homecare as well as other specialties … were displaced from the hospital. Physio hasn't been in Oxbow for around two years, so it's just a definite need. And this (building) suited basically the needs of the ambulance, the EMS station, as well as the needs of supportive care. That's why this building was chosen."
Paramedic Britt Venn, who is a part of the project and worked on building acquisition, liaised between the SHA, the regional EMS director, the healthcare administrator, the RM of Enniskillen and the Hospital Auxiliary to ensure everything worked out. She said she was working on the project for about a month, and with a background in construction, she knew what was possible based on what they had to work with for available buildings.
She said that it was important for her to see the project progress.
"My dad was actually one of the people who started EMS services here in Oxbow. And so I had a little bit of a familial duty just to pay it forward or improve the service if I could. I came into the EMS service in Oxbow only in March, and having worked in many other places, I noticed there was a few things that the staff were missing. And I thought if there was a way for me to improve everyone's quality of life, then that would just make everyone's workplace better, make the community, the service better, in hopes that we can attract more paramedics to this area in order to be able to have better coverage on our ambulance," Venn explained.
She added that she recently had a baby, and she had to take the baby out of town often for appointments because there is no place in Oxbow where the community health nurse or dieticians or other specialists can just come.
"I recognized that there was a pretty substantial need within the community to have what we are calling the Health and Wellness Centre, just a place to allow those folks who provide medical services a professional and clean space that they can do their job," Venn said.
The new health and wellness centre will open many opportunities for Oxbow and surrounding communities. Bartlett said that their goal is to have as many health professionals as possible in a centralized location, providing the best care for their residents.
"Our goal is to partner with health professionals – home care, mental health, public health, dietitian, physio, addictions, telehealth, and hopefully one day to include massage, natural and holistic care and other important essential services housed under one roof. There will also be a space for the new handi-van to be kept indoors," Bartlett said.
They will need to attract some supportive care specialists from outside the community, most likely from Estevan, Weyburn and other bigger centres.
Having this new base will benefit the Galloway Health Centre and will potentially improve the situation with recruitment and retention of paramedics.
"We have had a very hard time with getting ambulance back, as well as retaining ambulance staff without having somewhere for them to stay. And the ambulance would often be on bypass or they would be not in service, because there was no staff for them. So having the ambulance base with living quarters, they will be able to recruit ambulance staff from surrounding areas," Bartlett said.
Venn added that while there is a general shortage of medical staff, the new centre should help the community with attracting paramedics.
"It's definitely a big step in the right direction. It's not doing anything to invent more paramedics. But what it will do is allow for accommodations to be available. So then, if there are paramedics from out of town that are interested in taking shifts in Oxbow, then we can actually provide them with accommodation, so then it's not cost prohibitive for them to come and do a shift here in Oxbow. And then, maybe we can also utilize those accommodations for people on a little bit more long-term basis. If we move someone into the area, we provide temporary housing for them until they find their own place," Venn said.
A wide variety of services offered through the centre will better cater to the needs of the surrounding communities. There is an ambulance in Carnduff, but if they are not in service or on a call with another patient, Oxbow Ambulance will cover their service area. Oxbow's ambulance covers a large area – Glen Ewen, and north, to the middle of Alameda and Carlyle, Hirsch and Frobisher and down to the US Border.
The RM will take possession of the building on Nov. 1 and hopes to have the primary health and wellness centre open and operational by Dec. 6.
Work will begin immediately to start the renovation process to ensure all necessary accommodations and retrofits are completed, including wheelchair accessibility.
If anyone is interested in contributing to this venture, through monetary donations or new furnishings for the bedrooms and kitchen or would like to know more information about renting a space, they can contact the RM. Tax-deductible donations will be issued for all monetary contributions.
Bartlett added that the community has been great in supporting the project.
"Huge support from the community," Bartlett said. "We're just so thankful for the support from Oxbow, the RM and the surrounding communities for such an amazing project."
"It was it was definitely a big joint effort amongst many members of the community and there's been a lot of fundraising initiatives that made this possible over the years … I'm just really happy that it all came together and that everyone could work together and see it through in a pretty timely fashion," Venn said.
The RM also saluted Alan Gay, who was the building owner, for his generosity towards this new partnership. Bartlett explained that he knew what the project was going to be, and he was very excited about it, so he dropped the asking price, making it possible for the RM to purchase the building.