Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 18: Health (18-24)

Virtual health hub for Sask. residents finds home on Whitecap Dakota First Nation

May 23, 2024

Hub will connect patients in northern and rural communities with health-care teams 

An illustration shows the exterior of a building in a grassy area surrounded by trees.
An artist’s rendering of the Virtual Health Hub on the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Health-care teams at the hub will offer remote medical services to patients in northern and rural communities when it opens in 2026.(Submitted by Virtual Health Hub)

CBC Indigenous: A new health centre based in Whitecap Dakota First Nation will offer virtual care to remote and rural communities in Saskatchewan, and eventually across Canada, officials said Thursday.

The $27-million virtual health hub will include teams of physicians, nurses and other health-care workers who can remotely assess patients in real-time in their home communities. The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies will help run the hub and train students to staff it.

“The future is coming very quickly. We need not only to deploy the technology, we need to train individuals who will be using this technology,” said Dr. Ivar Mendez, director of the health hub, during a Thursday morning sod-turning ceremony at the construction site in Whitecap Dakota First Nation, about 30 kilometres south of Saskatoon.

“In the end we will be able to provide more timely and effective health care, but also more cost-efficient health care. This is what the hub will be. It will be a model for the whole country.” 

Reduced travel and more immediate access to health care will improve health outcomes in under-served areas, said Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear.

“Right now, in northern communities, when a First Nations woman has to get an ultrasound, they have to fly into Saskatoon and it takes three days,” Bear said. “And they can’t even bring their partner. Their partner can’t enjoy that moment with them.”

Instead, a health-care worker at the hub could remotely operate a robot in a nursing station in a remote community to perform that ultrasound.

A man stands in front of microphones and speaks to reporters outdoors.
Remote medicine specialist Dr. Ivar Mendez speaks to reporters after announcing plans to build the virtual health hub on Whitecap Dakota First Nation land. (Jeremy Warren/CBC)

“This is not just a project for First Nations communities. It’s also for all communities right across Saskatchewan,” Bear said.

Thirty communities will have access to the hub when it opens, with more expected to be added every year. Gravelbourg in southwest Saskatchewan is one of the non-northern communities on the list. Eventually, the hub will offer access to communities outside of Saskatchewan.

The province is providing $9.1 million in funding and the federal government has committed $18.2 million.

“This is the future of health care, and it will be led by Indigenous communities,” said Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies president and CEO Riel Bellegarde.

Mendez said the heart of the building will be a “NASA-style command centre” that connects the health-care teams to what will eventually be 90 communities across Canada, allowing real-time assessment and testing of patients.

If someone comes into a remote community’s nursing station with chest pains, they can connect to health-care workers at the hub who can offer services like an electrocardiogram and other tests, he said.

“A cardiologist could listen to their heart and then we make a comprehensive assessment to decide if that patient needs to be treated in the community or triaged to one of our healthcare centres,” Mendez said.

Mendez is a pioneer in this field of medicine, having performed the world’s first long distance telementoring neurosurgery in 2002.

Premier Scott Moe, who also attended Thursday’s announcement, said this is the first project of its kind in Saskatchewan and likely the first in Canada. The hub is the result of a lot of planning and collaboration, said Moe.

“This is an opportunity for us to be appreciative of a partnership with the federal government,” Moe said. “They’re one of the many entities that had to say yes at the same time. It is going to help health-care services become more accessible.”

The hub is slated to open in 2026, with construction beginning this fall.


Jeremy Warren, Reporter

Jeremy Warren is a reporter in Saskatoon.