Friday March 10, 2017

'Our complacency will be paid for in full with children's lives,' warns Indigenous health care advocate

For the past decade, Dr. Mike Kirlew has been a fierce advocate for his patients in Sioux Lookout, Ont., and the surrounding area including Wapekeka First Nation. He wants to see a transformation in the Indigenous health care system.

For the past decade, Dr. Mike Kirlew has been a fierce advocate for his patients in Sioux Lookout, Ont., and the surrounding area including Wapekeka First Nation. He wants to see a transformation in the Indigenous health care system. (CBC )

Listen 18:49

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"The cost of our complacency will be paid for in full with children's lives. Period."

Words spoken in urgency by Dr. Mike Kirlew who lost two of his patients in January when they took their own lives.

Jolynn Winter, and Chantell Fox, were both 12-year-old girls living in Wapekeka First Nation.

"If the system doesn't transform, this will be repeated — not might be — this will be repeated again," he warns.

Dr. Kirlew, based in Sioux Lookout, Ont. serves the surrounding area including Wapekeka First Nation and unlike other health care professionals, he does not fly in and out. He has lived, with his family, in the community for a decade and has become a fierce advocate for Indigenous health care. 

"It's not easy being a persistent witness to injustice," he tells The Current's Friday host Marica Young. 

Jolynn Winter Chantell Fox

Jolynn Winter, 12, from the community of Wapapeka First Nation in Ontario, died by suicide, Jan. 2017. (Supplied by the Winter and Fox families/CBC News)

"I've seen things like children being denied care, or trying to get children out for a hearing test, or trying to get them out for speech language pathology — and not being able to do so. Those things are potential limiting in children."

He is demanding equity be served to Indigenous communities that include funding and a commitment for health care transformation.

"We pride ourselves in Canada, you know, on medicare, our publicly funded single payer system. It's not a perfect system but I think it's a very good system," Kirlew tells Young.

Dr Kirlew explains that the bureaucratic barriers in place mean preventing access to services such as specialists that might involve travel. The costs are not covered.

"We don't have those quality of care measures in the federal system as you do in the provincial system." - Dr. Mike Kirlew

He wants to see equitable funding to serve Indigenous communities that includes a commitment for health care transformation.

"We pride ourselves in Canada you know on medicare, our publicly funded single payer system. It's not a perfect system but I think it's a very good system," Kirlew tells Young.

He suggests tweaking the current system with good intention to create better outcomes.

Kirlew wants to see federal accountability measures that match what is being regulated in the provincial system — a system he says is focused on quality.

"We don't have those quality of care measures in the federal system as you do in the provincial system. So not only do you need equitable funding — and we're not getting that — you also need a system transformation."

Dr. Kirlew admits the fight to demand the necessary changes for his patients can be frustrating, but he won't be deterred.

"Sometimes you have to wake up in the morning and you just stand in front of the mirror and you look at yourself in the mirror and you just have to be deliberate and intentional in your decision just to not let colonization win today," Kirlew declares.

"In the little I can do as a physician, I'm not going to let it win today."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced The Current's Samira Mohyeddin.