NAN welcomes Ontario’s commitment to health transformation as inquest highlights issues
Special to the Bulletin - Nishnawbe Aski Nation
Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler welcomes investments in Indigenous health and wellness announced February 14 by the government of Ontario, while testimony from an inquest into the death of a First Nation woman shows the need for a rapid transformation of the delivery of health care and health services in NAN territory.
“Transforming health systems is a monumental undertaking and we are pleased to have commitments from Canada and Ontario to work with our First Nations as full partners,” said Grand Chief Fiddler. “We welcome direct funding from Ontario to our First Nations, which will allow us to build capacity at the community level. Ongoing commitments by Ontario and Canada are critical to close health gaps and recognize First Nation jurisdiction over our health, children and families.”
Across NAN territory, 10 organizations will receive first round funding for their mental health and wellness program proposals. Four organizations will receive funding for interprofessional primary care team proposals: Taykwa Tagamou Nation, the Mushkegowuk Council, Matawa Health Cooperative, and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.
An inquest this week in Sioux Lookout has heard testimony regarding the death of 37-year-old Ina Matawapit, who died June 7, 2012 at the Weagamow Lake nursing station in North Caribou Lake First Nation after being transferred from a police vehicle.
The inquest heard that the defibrillator in the nursing station didn’t work and oxygen was in short supply. A nurse testified that Northern protocol was followed when Matawapit was held in a jail cell prior to medical assessment, and that the records of her care were ordered re-written following her passing.
“We are hearing disturbing testimony about the death of Ina Matawapit and the failure of systems that are supposed to assist and care for our people,” said Fiddler. “Similar tragedies like the deaths of Laura Shewaybick and Brody Meekis have received national attention over the chronic inadequacies that have forced our leaders to declare a NAN-wide state of emergency in 2016. By working with our federal and provincial Treaty partners we hope to end this cycle of failure and despair.”
Laura Shewaybick was medevaced from Webequie First Nation in respiratory distress after the local nursing station’s supply of oxygen was extinguished. She passed away while hospitalized in Thunder Bay in 2015. Her husband honoured her memory by carrying an oxygen tank back to their community, a journey of approximately 1000 kilometres.
Brody Meekis, a five-year-old from Sandy Lake First Nation, died from strep throat after repeated visits to the local nursing station - an illness easily curable with antibiotics if properly diagnosed. His death highlighted the inadequacies of health care services and questioned the adequacy of post-mortem analyses to address gaps in care in northern communities.
Health transformation is a broad-ranging initiative to modernize and improve the northern health care system. It encompasses health promotion, effective management of illnesses, focus on quality outcomes, and accountability to patients. An alignment process will be led by NAN First Nations to create a shared vision of the root problems, solutions and implementation strategies.
On November 14, 2017 NAN announced that former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Ovide Mercredi will lead NAN’s work with the governments of Canada and Ontario for the transformation of health systems across NAN territory.
On November 17 Grand Chief Fiddler joined with federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott and Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins to commit to supporting a joint action table health transformation work plan.
The announcement, made during the First Nations Health Transformation Summit in Toronto, builds on Ontario’s First Nation Health Action Plan (announced in May 2016) and The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples Plan.