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Health (18-24)

Northern Manitoba chiefs call for immediate federal action on health-care crisis

April 3, 2023

Recent deaths linked to inadequate medical care include mother of 5 from Manto Sipi Cree Nation, chief says

A man in a blue button-up shirt and a beaded medallion around his neck speaks at a podium. Behind him people stand on either side, in front of a wall covered with flags.
Chief Michael Yellowback of Manto Sipi Cree Nation says two people have died because of inadequate health care in the northern Manitoba community in the last roughly nine months. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

CBC News: A group of Manitoba chiefs is calling for immediate action from the federal government to address what they call a health-care crisis causing preventable deaths on northern First Nations in the province. That action needs to start with ensuring nursing stations in remote communities are staffed adequately with nurses and have a full-time doctor available, said Michael Yellowback, chief of Manto Sipi Cree Nation (previously known as God’s River).

Right now, the community only has two of the three nurses it’s supposed to, and doctors only visit every two weeks, he said. “Too many of our people are dying. You would not see this in an urban environment,” Yellowback said alongside other chiefs and the federal NDP at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday morning.

The update comes less than two weeks after the Keewatin Tribal Council declared a regional state of emergency to sound the alarm over deaths involving suicide, drugs, violence and inadequate health care in its 11 northern Manitoba communities, including Manto Sipi.

Recent deaths

Yellowback said people in the community are often turned away or given Tylenol and sent home when they try to seek medical attention at the nursing station. He said that’s what happened to a 48-year-old man who died in June after seeking care for two weeks straight. More recently, a 37-year-old mother of five died after seeking medical treatment. Yellowback would not provide additional details, citing privacy reasons.

About 80 per cent of Manto Sipi’s population is on a fixed income, and a round trip from the community to Winnipeg costs more than $1,000 for travel alone — putting that option out of reach for community members who want to access health care or a second medical opinion, he said.

Jordna Hill, chief of Shamattawa First Nation, echoed Yellowback’s calls for more nurses in remote communities like his.He said Shamattawa has also seen people die after failing to get adequate medical attention at the community’s nursing station. He also called for more thorough assessments of patients seeking care in the community and an increased ability to triage patients and determine what care they need.

“This needs to stop,” Hill said at the news conference, which also included Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “We can’t go any further like this.”

‘Humanitarian crisis’

Niki Ashton, the NDP’s deputy critic for Indigenous services, said what’s happening in communities like Manto Sipi and Shamattawa amounts to a “humanitarian crisis” that requires urgent action from the government. “These are stories that, for too many Canadians, are out of sight and out of mind,” said Ashton, the MP for Manitoba’s Churchill–Keewatinook Aski riding.

“This is not the time for hollow commitment to reconciliation. This is the time for action to save lives.”

A recently released answer to a Feb. 9 order paper question from Ashton said all remote and isolated nursing stations managed by Indigenous Services Canada in Manitoba and Ontario ran below capacity for at least one day over the past two months.

A woman with glasses and a green blazer speaks into a microphone at a podium. Two people stand behind her.
NDP MP Niki Ashton says the situation in communities like Manto Sipi and Shamattawa amount to a ‘humanitarian crisis’ requiring urgent action from the federal government. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

That was due primarily to staffing shortages and “the rotational nature of this kind of nursing,” the answer said.

Walter Wastesicoot, grand chief of the Keewatin Tribal Council, said Indigenous Services Canada reached out to begin discussions with affected communities after they declared a state of emergency last month, but there have been no substantial measures taken yet to address the ongoing crisis.

“There are so many cases of neglect that we are currently exploring legal action as an option,” he said, adding that step was a work in progress that he couldn’t provide further details on. Indigenous Services Canada did not provide a response by deadline.

Northern Manitoba First Nations call for immediate action to fix staffing crisis in nursing stations
First Nations leaders in northern Manitoba want immediate action to address a nursing shortage they say is costing people their lives. The Chiefs of two remote communities are concerned about a shortage of staff at nursing stations. They call it a crisis and they want the federal government to fix it.