First Nations Leaders in Manitoba Declare a State of Emergency on Health Services in the North
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (Brokenhead Ojibway Nation) – Late afternoon May 24, 2022, the Keewatinohk Inniniw Okimowin Council (KIOC) of elected leaders unanimously declared a state of emergency on health services. The elected leaders are Chiefs and Councilors who collectively represent 23 First Nations in Manitoba’s north. The motion calling for the declaration came about during a two-day meeting of the KIOC, held to make important decisions on health transformation.
Discussion turned to the critical nursing shortage that will impact all 21 of Manitoba’s federal nursing stations, placing First Nations people in actual peril because of the much longer wait times to be seen in the Nursing Stations where a minimum standard of care is already stretched to breaking.
While the nursing stations are not to close, the ‘open to emergencies’ only policy has been put in place by the federal government across Manitoba for at least the week of May 16 to 23, 2022. What this means is that the number of nurses able to support a community is so low that they can only support emergencies.
“Who would bring their family member there knowing that the services are stretched that thin? To protest, we should gather a busload of patients from our communities and bring them south all at once to access services” stated Chief Monias, Interim Chair, KIOC and further that “We are calling on the government to come to a round table and discuss solutions immediately”.
Nursing Stations dilemma a symptom of system neglect akin to Jordan’s Principle for all First Nations people
“We are being called on to collaborate on health transformation in the spirit of partnership with the federal and provincial governments. Given the worsening health care access conditions and the preventable deaths, I know our loved ones and our ancestors would stand with us today in this declaration. I do not think the governments appreciate how incredibly gracious the people have been, even in the face of long-standing racism and the lack of the most basic community health services that other Canadians receive. It would be an incredible miscalculation to expect their good will to last.”, stated Chief Monias.
Dr. Barry Lavallee, Chief Executive Officer of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin (KIM) Inc. applauded the declaration; “Nursing shortages and shortages in physician-led care, limited access to diagnostic care, lack of appropriate health infrastructure in communities, and the lack of a coordinated systems-based response for urgent and emergent issues like the nursing shortage – all of this is racism, full stop, and has been worsening instead of improving over time. System leaders have nothing to be proud of and should really hang their heads in shame. Many will try to lay blame on the pandemic but that is only one of the contributing factors. The truth is that although the pandemic has shed new light on gaps in care and really, the ‘Jordan’s Principle’ of health services for First Nations people overall – it is time for systems to stand in discomfort and take the hits for their neglect due to racism.”
KIM exists because the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Health Transformation with Canada in 2018. Today, they are moving forward on an Agreement in Principle that will one day mean First Nations have control over some of the federal government functions with respect to health services for northern First Nations. One of the principles in the MOU is ‘no off-loading’ by either of the federal or provincial governments.
“More and more we are being called to advise federal and provincial systems on solutions however, we know that we cannot let the systems call the shots anymore. They have done a poor job and it is time for Indigenous people to take back control. We cannot give up on the collaborative possibilities, even while we call out the systems working with us. It is better that they move from a place of shame to one of allowing equal footing by First Nations in decision-making while they take appropriate responsibility for health care services. We also expect that systems will continue to support us as we begin taking steps to lead from a stronger platform with the northern First Nations.” Moriah Davis, Chief Operations Officer, KIM.
What will a Declaration of a State of Emergency on Health accomplish for the northern First Nations?
Signal to both the provincial and federal governments that First Nations in the north will be seeking more control over the health systems meant to serve them.
A roundtable discussion with the federal and provincial governments to address immediate, short term, medium- and long-term solutions for issues such as but not limited to:
- Long standing shortages of nurses and physicians for northern First Nations, ambulatory and medical transportation related issues, and a lack of preventative health care
- Health infrastructure on reserves which is long overdue for modernization
- Modernization of the 1964 Agreement
- Improving the federal and provincial integrated response system for urgent and emergent crises
- Systemic racism
“With respect to KIM and ‘taking over’ First Nations health services in the north, we are eager for this to happen. We are short staffed in our community – with nursing as well as security. When we go to Thompson there is nothing there to look after patients that need special care. When we travel to Winnipeg or Brandon, the care is available. Why can’t we get the same care in Thompson?”, Councillor Cheyenne Spence, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.
“It is a mess. This is systemic racism. Thompson General Hospital has become a triage center. We need to look at ways to take control – make our own policies, services, and facilities up north instead of sending them down south. As peoples, we are still ‘in care’ and must change that.” Councillor Donnie McKay, Pimicikamak.
“Our nursing station has a certain number of FTE nurses allocated, but we never hit that number. They sometimes work from 8:00 am in the morning to 4:00 am the next morning. This is very concerning. We would not want a nurse who did double time to assess patients. There could be misdiagnosis and medication errors. These issues place lives at risk”, Councillor Shirley Robinson, Pimicikamak.