First Nations patients 'stranded' in Thunder Bay
People 'stuck in sheltering system' after coming to Thunder Bay for medical appointments
Posted: Sep 26, 2012 8:36 AM ET
Last Updated: Sep 26, 2012 2:30 PM ET
A Health Canada policy is leaving some patients from northern First Nations stranded in Thunder Bay, an airline executive says.Wasaya Airways president Tom Morris says if patients miss their return flight home to their First Nations community, a Health Canada policy prevents them from rebooking their flights. (Wasaya Airways)
Wasaya Airways president Tom Morris said a significant number of his passengers travel to medical appointments from remote First Nations — expensive flights that are paid by Health Canada. But Morris noted in Manitoba, Health Canada gives patients more flexibility in booking travel, and allows them to re-book if they miss a return flight.
A spokesperson for Health Canada says that's not the case, that its policies are uniformly enforced across the country and that patients are allowed to reschedule missed flights.
But Morris said in northwestern Ontario, if a patient misses a return flight, they're stuck in Thunder Bay or in Sioux Lookout. Those patients are often stranded with little money or experience living in the big city — and sometimes they wind up at Shelter House.
“Because they don't have accommodation or they don't have resources to even purchase accommodation or a return trip themselves then they're stuck here in the sheltering system,” said Patty Hajdu, executive director.Patricia Hajdu, Thunder Bay's Shelter House executive director, says some First Nations patients who are stranded in the city to become clients at the homeless shelter. (CBC)
Hajdu said staff at Shelter House commonly talks to clients who have been stranded in Thunder Bay. They come from remote First Nations with little access to medical care.
Wequedong Lodge provides accommodations in Thunder Bay for First Nations people waiting for medical appointments, but accommodations are only provided around the time of appointment. Still, Wequedong's executive director Charles Morris said only a small minority of clients end up stuck.
“I guess, for lack of a better word, they end up getting stranded in the city of Thunder Bay,” he said.
Charles Morris said First Nations sometimes pay for a return flight so their members don't wind up homeless in the city.
Both Charles Morris and Hajdu noted the people who get stranded are sometimes dealing with addictions or mental health issues that make their time in an unfamiliar city especially challenging.
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