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'We really depend on each other': Rural physicians mobilize to assist injured in Humboldt Broncos bus crash

Dr. Tess Richardson has dealt with three bus crashes involving young victims during her medical career.

Two of the crashes occurred in her native South Africa. The third happened April 6 near her Tisdale home, when a semi collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team and staff. Sixteen people have died, and the other 13 occupants suffered injuries.

Dr. Richardson was at home but was called into the Tisdale hospital moments after the crash occurred. Staff were mobilizing, including nurses, an on-call ER physician and two nurse practitioners who had ER or trauma training. However, Dr. Richardson felt more help was needed. That’s when physicians in Melfort rallied to assist their rural colleagues.

“The call that I got said there has been a big accident, a semi hit a bus, we’re expecting multiple casualties, please hurry,” Dr. Richardson told the SMA. “We weren’t sure how many we’d be getting but there were multiple deaths on the scene and we’re expecting some pretty sick people.”

'Incredible team effort'

Dr. Eben Strydom of Melfort, who was driving home from Saskatoon when he heard of the accident, was one of six physicians from the community who made their way to Tisdale. He describes a scene that was very busy, but not chaotic.

“People were doing what they needed to do, but lots of staff and nurses were not familiar with the environment because they came from Melfort. We had excellent support from the local nurses so if you asked for something it was brought right away.

“It was an incredible team effort to just help make sure everything got done as well as possible and as quick as possible.”

With rural practice comes exposure to severe traumas, Dr. Strydom said, but no one can prepare for a tragedy on the scale of the Broncos bus crash. It helps knowing that support from other physicians and health professionals is close at hand.

“When things like this happen and you get enough help, it’s just one big team instead of people working in isolation,” Dr. Strydom said.

“We really depend on each other. We work as colleagues, we refer things back and forth, meaning Melfort will support Tisdale with a lot of the surgical services as well as anaesthetic and obstetric services. People know each other, we know the people working in Nipawin, we do have contact and people talk to each other and have that understanding.”

Health teams mobilize

The Tisdale hospital received six accident victims, while nine were sent to Nipawin, where physicians, nurses, and other health workers had also mobilized expecting a crush of patients.

“I think everything went smoothly – when I say smoothly that’s considering how bad the situation could have been if we’d only been able to mobilize one doctor and no additional staff,” said Dr. Bronwyn Carroll, medical staff leader in Nipawin.

“Considering all of that I think things went fairly well from our side,” she said, adding STARS and air ambulance crews were crucial in getting patients to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.

Dr. Richardson of Tisdale says the sense of collegiality that exists among physicians in east-central Saskatchewan went a long way to easing an intense situation. The experience brought back memories of the two bus crashes back home in South Africa.

“I had two critical incidents like this back home. Each one involved a bus and each one had young people,” she said. “The second one, which was just before I came to Canada, we worked in a hospital that actually had a critical incident plan in place. Everybody knew our roles and we rehearsed it and it still didn’t even go as well as this did.

“It was like we’d been doing this all our lives, it’s like we get an incident like this every other week. People arrived, they picked up whatever role needed to be picked up and did it beautifully. We had tons of support locally and it was fantastic to get that amount of physician support because we needed it.”

The SMA has resources available for physicians affected by the tragedy. Please click here for information on the Physician Health Program, or see the dedicated resources page on the website by clicking here.

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