Quebec Cree community to get regional hospital

The new hospital will provide close to 20,000 Cree in nine communities specialized services such as surgery, cancer treatment, CT scans, gynecology and obstetrics.

Project part of $700 million agreement that will also see long-term care facilities built

Officials from Quebec, the Cree Nation Government and the Cree health board sign a five-year funding renewal agreement Monday in Chisasibi, Que. It includes the building of a hospital in this community of more than 5,000. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Representatives from the Cree Nation are welcoming news of funding for a new 52-bed regional hospital and health centre to be built in the James Bay community of Chisasibi, Que. 

Quebec Health and Social Services Minister Danielle McCann, Indigenous Affairs Minister Slyvie D'Amours, and representatives of the Cree Nation Government and Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay announced $300 million in funding for the project as part of a five-year funding agreement signed Monday at a ceremony in Chisasibi.

For Cree health board chairperson Bella M. Petawabano, it is the realization of a long-held dream for a full-service regional hospital to serve Cree people in a culturally safe way, closer to home. 

"This new Eeyou-Eenou Regional Health Centre is critical for health care in Eeyou Istchee," said Petawabano, adding the new facility will be seven times the size of the current local Chisasibi hospital, which was built about 40 years ago.

The new health centre will be a 20,000 square metre, 52-bed hospital and community Miyupimaatisiiun centre. 

It will provide close to 20,000 Cree in nine communities specialized services such as surgery, cancer treatment, CT scans, gynecology and obstetrics. It will also offer palliative care and better mental health and addictions services, as well as a host of other internal medicine services and improved telehealth capabilities.

The local hospital in Chisasibi, Que. The health board says there are now eight cases of COVID-19 assigned to the territory. (Susan Bell/CBC)

'Benefits are profound'

"The benefits are profound," Petawabano said, adding currently patients must travel away from families and communities to access specialized care.

For Quebec's Health and Social Service minister Danielle McCann, the project is in line with her government's priorities to get health care services closer to communities. 

"First and foremost for the wellbeing of those communities," said McCann, adding it will also alleviate pressure on services in the south. McCann says the provincial government hopes to sign similar agreements with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across the province. 

"That is what we want to do across Quebec," said McCann. "When you have those services close to your home, you fare much better."

Construction of the health centre is expected to begin in 2023 and end in 2025.

"The new regional health centre is a concrete sign of a nation to nation partnership between the Cree Nation and Quebec," said Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum, adding it will also offer Cree significant employment and contracting opportunities. 

"Our challenge will be to match the opportunity with capacity of the Crees," said Bosum, adding the Cree Nation government will work with the Cree health board and Cree School Board to meet the challenge. 

The community of Chisasibi celebrated the signing of a five-year funding agreement which includes the construction of a regional hospital that would provide specialized services such as surgery, cancer treatment, CT scans, gynecology and obstetrics. (Susan Bell/CBC)

For Petawabano, having Cree people ready to fill the positions that will be coming in the health care sector is a key part of providing good care for Cree people. 

"We need our young people to be trained, they understand the culture, they speak the language and they know the environment," said Petawabano.

The funding for the Eeyou-Eenou Health Centre announced Monday is part of a funding agreement renewal between Quebec and the Cree health board. 

It includes more than $60 million over five years, another $44 million for technological improvements and $600 million in capital works, including the hospital and health centre project. 

The rest of the capital works budget will go toward building three long-term care facilities, and Cree health board housing, among other things. There are also plans to provide respite care in all the Cree communities.