Health care talks set for northern First Nations

Talks are coming up in several northern Manitoba First Nations communities on how to improve health care.

Talks are coming up in several northern Manitoba First Nations communities on how to improve health care.

Premier Greg Selinger said consultations will be held this fall with members of the Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Red Sucker Lake and Wasagamack First Nations.

The talks will focus on birth and maternal care, mental health and addictions services, chronic disease management and rehabilitation, Selinger said, adding that it is unacceptable there are 10,000 people living in the Island Lake region without local access to health care.

"We are moving forward with a plan that will consult residents on the best way to bring new health services to the area," he said, making the announcement Tuesday at the Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Winnipeg.

Options for health care delivery

The Island Lake area is accessible only by air in the summer and by ice roads in winter.

But an all-weather road is being planned to connect the four Island Lake communities to each other and eventually the rest of the province, said Selinger.

That will make it possible for a few health-care delivery options, he added.

Residents will be asked to consider different health-care delivery options including the traditional centralized model where all services are provided in one location or one in which different communities would specialize in specific areas of health care with all communities having quick access to each service in neighbouring communities.

"We are encouraged that the community consultations … will ensure the grassroots voices of each of the four Island Lake First Nations will be heard," said Chief David McDougall of the St. Theresa Point First Nation.

The Island Lake region is located northeast of Lake Winnipeg near the Ontario border.

With over 10,000 residents, which is projected to rise to 16,000 residents by 2025, it is the most populous region of the province without local major primary and acute health-care services and all-weather road access.

Residents have among the poorest health outcomes in the province including the highest rate of diabetes, the highest rate of leg amputations among diabetic patients and the second-highest premature mortality rate (death under age 75), according to a press release issued by the Manitoba government.

More than 200 women currently leave the region each year to give birth in Winnipeg, with several hundred specialist consultations and medevacs for urgent health needs.