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Forest fires could force Temiskaming Hospital to cancel more surgeries

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Poor air quality in Temiskaming Shores forced the hospital to cancel all surgeries Friday, and depending on the forest fire situation, it may have to cancel more procedures scheduled Monday.

The hospital enacted its ‘button down protocol’ Thursday afternoon to manage air quality as smoke from northwestern Quebec wildfires poured into the region.

On the horizon, over Lake Timiskaming, more smoke from Quebec and Lake Abitibi forest fires slowly approach from the east, as a 2,100-hectare fire 40 km to the west burns out of control.

Mayor Jeff Laferriere is reminding the public about the current municipal fire ban in place.

"With all of the fires surrounding us, we want to make sure we are really protecting everybody," Laferriere said.

On Thursday, the forest fire smoke was so thick, it caused eye, nose and throat irritation for both patients and staff at the hospital.

The hospital immediately cancelled and re-booked surgeries scheduled for Friday and obstetrical services were also cancelled.

"We have to be ahead of the game," said Temiskaming Hospital president and CEO Mike Baker.

“The forecast into this evening is not good … We've been monitoring the situation 24/7."

Poor air quality in Temiskaming Shores forced the hospital to cancel all surgeries Friday, and depending on the forest fire situation, it may have to cancel more procedures scheduled Monday.

The hospital closed all air flow from outside the building and enacted what's called ‘code grey,’ controlling and limiting access to the facility. The hospital remains open.

Access will only be through the main doors and security personnel will be controlling the entry and exit.

"This past Saturday we also did a code grey for a couple of hours because we actually had ash falling on vehicles," Baker said.

Surgeries only occur at the hospital on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So if the hospital keeps the code grey in place, no surgeries would be cancelled this weekend.

But with the unprecedented forest fire season, the hospital can’t predict what will happen by Monday and if more surgeries would need to be cancelled.

"It looks like there's some high risk from Lake Abitibi and the northwestern Quebec fire smoke are going to join again and that could cause us some grief," said Baker.

The hospital is asking all volunteers and non-essential care partners not come to the hospital.

The hospital is calling for patience from citizens and staff in the wake of this unique situation.

"Hopefully it is just a one-time event," said Laferriere.

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