As site visits began Friday for property owners impacted by the Tantallon wildfires, Nova Scotia Health (NSH) was ramping up mental health services offered at the Canada Games Centre evacuation centre. 

“We understand families are going to see their homes for the first time. So when they come back to the centre, we feel starting today the needs for mental health support will be quite high,” Tara Sampalli, NSH senior director, global health systems planning, said in an interview Friday. “It’s going to be a very difficult type of situation after what they have seen.”

Since Monday, an NSH drop-in mobile primary care clinic has been onsite at the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park for those displaced by the Tantallon/Hammonds Plains fire. It offers primary health care with a nurse practitioner and nurse in collaboration with mental health and addictions staff, the IWK Health Centre, and public health.

“Today, they have added more (mental health care workers) just because they feel like it will be more needed,” Sampalli said. 

A white van with blue and green designs on it sits in a parking lot outside of white brick building.
The Public Health Mobile Unit outside the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park. Credit: Suzanne Rent

Earlier in the week, people were getting settled and coming to terms with what was happening. Sampalli said at that point it was about having conversations and just being there for people. Although primary care won’t be offered at the site on Saturday and Sunday, that service returns on Monday. 

Mental health staff will be at the Canada Games Centre all weekend, and Sampalli said the need has already started to ramp up.

“And we are thinking that especially given the afternoon and what will be expected for the families, we are going to keep the…mental health workers there,” she said.

Mobile clinic in Shelburne

A mobile primary care clinic for those displaced in Shelburne has also been set up at a comfort centre in that community. Located at the Shelburne Community Centre, 63 King Street, it’s operating on the same model as the Canada Games Centre clinic.

Primary care and mental health services will be available from Friday until Monday at the Shelburne site, at which time things will be reassessed. 

Sampalli said as the week has progressed, more people are taking advantage of the Canada Games Centre’s mobile primary care clinic. 

“People were just so shocked initially they didn’t know what to ask. Now they are seeing a lot of ENT (ear, nose, and throat) type of things and some respiratory things,” she said. “Those typical primary care types of concerns are starting to happen…People are starting to see the need and starting to reach in more.”

Mobile primary care clinics being offered across the province this weekend — including for those impacted by wildfires — are accessible here.

Deborah Blois is a nurse practitioner who is at the Canada Games Centre and part of Public Health’s mobile unit providing primary care to people who have evacuated. 

“In some cases, their pharmacies have closed, their doctor’s office has been closed, and so we were filling prescriptions, taking care of minor illnesses,” Blois said. “People have been in for coughs, and colds, and earaches, sinus problems, aches and pains. Anything they might go to a walk-in clinic for.” 

She described it as non-emergency care, but a place people can come “to get basic health care needs taken care of.”

Blois also directs people to other services in the centre, including the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Disaster Animal Rescue Team of Nova Scotia.

“Everyone in this building is part of a team,” Blois said.  

Other mental health supports

Other mental health supports available through NSH include Access Wellness Nova Scotia, a free, single-session supportive counselling service for individuals, couples, or families. 

The service is for Nova Scotians who need help managing stress, grief and loss, mild to moderate depression or anxiety, relationship issues, general mental health concerns, concerns related to alcohol and drug use.

Non-crisis social support for adults 18 and older is offered through the Peer Support Line. “Reasons for calling can be anything from having a tough day at work, feeling down, struggling with supporting a loved one, going through a rough patch in a relationship and many more.”

On Tuesday, NSH’s mental health and addictions program, in collaboration with the QEII Foundation and the Global Psychological eHealth Foundation, launched a supportive text messaging tool for any Nova Scotian affected by the wildfires.

Nova Scotians can text HopeNS to 393939 to subscribe for six months of supportive text messages, free of charge. 

NSH describes Text4HopeNS as an evidence-based tool that helps people identify and adjust the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours stressful times might provoke.

“We know this is a very stressful and uncertain time for many people in the province,” Dr. Vincent Agyapong, Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone chief of psychiatry and head of psychiatry at Dalhousie University, said in a media release. “We hope this supportive mental health and wellness tool will help provide comfort to anyone who may be struggling.”

Through the tool, people receive daily messages offering advice and encouragement “helpful in developing healthy personal coping skills and resiliency.”

With files from Suzanne Rent

Click here to visit our Nova Scotia wildfires resource page.

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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