Health care workers flown to work by helicopter after flooding in Cape Breton

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Health care workers transported in helicopter.

Come hell or high water, licensed practical nurse Josephine Barron will make it into work to take care of her patients.

Even if it means hopping on a fishing boat or being transported by helicopter.

Barron, the Unit Chair for Buchanan Memorial Hospital (Unifor Local 4600), said because of huge amounts of rainfall in Cape Breton, N.S. beginning Tuesday, November 23, 2021, her usual 20-minute commute to Buchanan Memorial Hospital in Neils Harbour became a 4.5-hour drive from Ingonish as roads were washed out.

“We started talking online on our nursing site and one suggestion was using a fishing boat and someone else suggested a helicopter,” she said.

Heather Rasmussen, the facility manager of the hospital, “went above and beyond” and began coordinating with the Department of Lands and Forestry, which loaned one of its choppers to transport health care workers to and from Neils Harbour and Ingonish – covering the 26 km. trip in seven minutes by air.

Fishing boat


In late November, a storm battered parts of northeastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton with more than 100 millimetres of rain and winds gusting as high as 140 km/h. Some areas saw more than 200 millimetres of rain over three days, causing massive flooding.

In addition, a volunteer with a fishing boat is making several trips a day, weather dependant – about an hour each way – which allow the health care workers to access routes.

The only downside, said Barron, is the boat and helicopter cannot operate at night, in which case, owners of Channel Breezes bed and breakfast in Dingwall have opened their doors to Buchanan hospital staff coming off shift at 7 p.m., free of charge.

The helicopter and fishing boat will continue to make these trips as long as roads remain closed, said Barron.

“I’m in awe at the dedication of our members, they are not hopping in their car or a bus to get to work, they are getting into a helicopter or a boat to provide care for their patients,” said Unifor Atlantic Regional Director Linda MacNeil.

“I have always been proud of our members but seeing the extraordinary effort they are making to get to the hospital where they work is simply outstanding.”

Fishing boat


Barron said she has been a nurse at Buchanan Memorial Hospital, an acute-care facility with public health and doctors’ offices, for over 27 years.

It was vital for her, and the six other nurses, to be able to reach their patients each day in a timely fashion.

“We’re in a remote area as it is and very short on staff,” she said. “Any washout between the communities adds stress on everybody – the workers, management and patients.”

“The way I see it – that’s my community, those are my people and they need me,” she added.