Remote northern Ontario First Nation ‘operating on life support’ due to nurse shortage

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Remote northern Ontario First Nation ‘operating on life support’ due to nurse shortage's Profile


The remote Kashechewan First Nation, in northern Ontario, only had three nurses to serve a community of around 1,900 as of Thursday, Aug. 25.

Kashechewan Chief Gaius Wesley told CBC News the community normally has between seven and nine nurses at any given time.

Due to the shortage, Wesley said the health-care workers can only provide emergency care. The nursing station has been operating on an emergencies only basis for four weeks.

“The appointment system that was used for the walk-in clinics have been closed off as a result of the shortage,” Wesley said.

He said nurses who work in the community are normally primary care providers, and that there is a very high demand for that basic health-care service.

“It is very concerning,” Wesley said.

“You know, I’m being pressured in my office by my people to try to find a solution with First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada, who is responsible for the administration of the nursing program in the community.”

Kashechewan First Nation Chief Gaius Wesley says community members can only receive emergency medical care because they are down to three nurses. (Gaius Wesley )

In a press release on Thursday, Jonathan Solomon, Kashechewan’s health director, said the community “is operating on life support.”

“I am concerned for the wellbeing of our nursing staff,” Solomon said in the release. “This is not good at all.”

Wesley said he hopes to open up a dialogue with other chiefs to come up with a better plan to recruit nurses to remote First Nations.

For the short term, he said there have been discussions to send patients from the community to hospitals to the south.

The community of Moose Factory has the closest hospital, and is located around 135 kilometres away by plane or helicopter. 

Indigenous Services Canada ‘working diligently’

“Across the country, we are currently experiencing critical nursing staff shortages which may affect nursing stations in remote and isolated Indigenous communities,” Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Nicolas Moquin said in an email to CBC News.

“As such, we are working diligently to address this situation to ensure First Nations communities are not hindered long-term by staffing issues related to health resources in Canada.”

Moquin said Indigenous Services Canada is assessing staffing levels at the Kashechewan nursing station several times per day.

“In addition to exhausting national nursing and paramedic service contracts and standing offers, multiple staffing agencies and tribal councils have been contacted to identify additional health human resources to support Kashechewan,” Moquin said in the email.

He added Indigenous Services Canada “will make every effort” to provide health care services by phone, at an alternate nursing station, or by virtual care, if necessary.

Moquin added that in case of emergency situations, Ontario’s Ornge air ambulance service can transport patients to the closest appropriate hospital.



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