Lack of trained nurses in First Nations communities underlines Ottawa’s neglect

Posted on April 29, 2015 in Equality Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – The auditor general’s findings speak to a pattern of neglect that leaves communities “severely marginalized,” says Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario.
Apr 28 2015.   Editorial

Of all the woes that beset some First Nations communities — joblessness, violence, decrepit housing, poor schools, undrinkable water, short life expectancy — a shortage of nurses with special skills might not seem a pressing concern. But it is.

As a report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s office makes clear, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has failed to ensure that First Nations people living in remote areas get the medical treatment they need. The nursing shortage is symptomatic of a wider pattern of federal neglect that reaches across native life.

Nurses in isolated communities often face emergencies that call for medical skills that go well beyond basic training. Those skills include advanced cardiac life support and trauma life support for both adults and children. So nurses must complete mandatory courses in these areas.

Yet as the Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith reports, the audit of services provided through Health Canada in Ontario and Manitoba found that just one of 45 nurses had completed all the required training in five courses selected for the audit. Just one! Health Canada flagged this problem itself, back in 2010. But it still persists, five years later. Additionally, Health Canada hasn’t put in place the required directives to permit nurses to prescribe and dispense drugs and take x-rays, work that’s outside their normal scope.

Although Health Canada provides care for 95,000 people through 85 facilities in remote areas where 400 nurses lead teams, it flubbed the most basic tests. It “did not take into account the health needs … when allocating its support.” And it failed to give First Nations “comparable access to clinical and client care services as other provincial residents living in similar geographic locations.”

Those are damning findings. They speak to a federal disregard that leaves communities “severely marginalized,” says Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Northern Ontario. People are suffering under “a broken health care system that this government does not appear willing to fix.” To underscore his point he cited the case of two preschoolers who died last year from issues relating to strep throat, an ailment that is easily treatable.

Remote First Nations have no 911 service, he pointed out. There’s a shortage of procedures and equipment for early diagnoses. Medevac is spotty. Detoxification programs are in short supply.

As former auditor Sheila Fraser put it, far too many First Nations people “still lack what most other Canadians take for granted.” As the Idle No More movement has demanded, that must change.

In the coming election, voters should demand to know how their politicians would do things differently. From treaty rights to schooling and health care, the Crown is betraying a people’s trust.

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