First Nations leaders declare state of emergency amid nursing shortage in Northern Manitoba

A state of emergency on health services has been declared by First Nations leaders in northern Manitoba.

The Keewatinohk Inniniw Okimowin Council’s (KIOC) declaration covers their 23 First Nations and comes after a two-day meeting to discuss health-related concerns.

“In Cross Lake, we had to close our nursing station. That’s one of the reasons why we’re declaring a state of emergency in health,” says Chief David Monias, interim chairperson for the KIOC, detailing the rippling effect the nursing shortage is having on the care they can provide.

Part of the Council’s proposed solution is for the province to allow the communities more control over their health care decisions.

“We can provide our own professionals, our own administrators, our own knowledge keepers to work with us,” says Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc. “We’re not afraid to take over a system that will deliver care to ourselves.”

Because of the shortage of nurses, those that are there are overwhelmed as they manage as best they can.

“Right now, we are allotted sixteen nurses for clinical care in Cross Lake,” Monias said. “We currently have four that have to work 24 hours. So you’re looking at maybe two nurses staffing a nursing station for 12 hours each.”

Aside from a lack of nurses, there are additional challenges the Indigenous communities are attempting to manage, the most prevalent being discrimination.

“Pre-pandemic, we’ve always been concerned about the lack of efficient, racism-free primary care services to First Nations,” said Lavalee. “Not only in communities but also at the secondary tertiary referral sectors.”

He adds discussions are ongoing with their leaders to develop new models of primary care.

CTV News has reached out to the Northern Health Region for comment.

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