North

There are dangers of cancelling important health appointments over COVID-19 fears: Cree officials

Health officials in northern Quebec Cree communities are warning people not to miss important medical appointments with specialists in the South over fears of the novel coronavirus.

Health officials are planning a live stream on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., to address concerns

Cree health officials are encouraging patients to be in touch with their health-care provider regarding important medical appointments in the South. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Health officials in northern Quebec Cree communities are warning people not to miss important medical appointments with specialists in the South over fears of the novel coronavirus. 

Cree patients are regularly sent to see specialists in places like Montreal, Chibougamau and Val d'Or to receive treatments such as chemotherapy, hemodialysis and others that are not widely available in the North. 

In 2018, Cree patients made more than 21,000 visits to the South. 

"The risk of not going to appointments could be much greater than catching the COVID-19 virus," said Bella Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

The Cree health board is following the Quebec Health Ministry's advice to postpone some non-urgent or elective appointments during the coronavirus pandemic, but Petawabano said people need to be in touch with their health-care provider to determine if they can safely postpone their appointment. 

Cree health avoiding Montreal airport

Cree health board chairperson Bella Petawabano says they are setting up a 1-800 number to answer COVID-19 questions in Cree and English. (CBHSSJB livestream)

The health board is seeing a lot of clients cancelling their appointments since the outbreak started, according to Daniel St.-Amour, the executive director of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

St.-Amour said extra efforts are being made to protect Cree patients who travel South for necessary medical appointments — by travelling only by charter.

"We don't want clients to land at Trudeau [International Airport in Montreal]. We are going to use our own charter," said St. Amour. 

The Cree health board medical charters operate from a facility separate from the main airport terminal and extra efforts are being made to clean and disinfect the space, according to officials.

St. Amour and chairperson Petawabano answered questions about COVID-19 during a special live stream along with Cree Nation Government leaders on Tuesday. 

Patients with appointments in the South will only be transported by the Cree health board's medical charters. The planes operate from a terminal separate from the main Trudeau International Airport. (Gaston Cooper/Air Creebec)

Cree health is also recommending that patients and their escorts be pre-triaged before they board a plane back to the territory, according to Faisca Richer, director of public health at Cree health, who was also part of the live stream. 

Faisca Richer is the director of public health at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. (CBHSSJB livestream)

"Especially the escorts, who may have been around the city a little more than the patients themselves," said Richer, adding it shouldn't be a difficult measure to put in place as there is already a nurse on board the health charters. 

Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay will also soon set up a 1-800 line so medical personnel can answer people's questions about COVID-19 in Cree and English, to reduce the number of calls coming into local community clinics and the Chisasibi hospital.

As of Thursday, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cree territory.

Petawabano said if a case is diagnosed in a community, the front-line workers have been trained in how to isolate them. If the case is serious enough, the patient will be sent for treatment in the South.

Health officials are planning another live stream on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., along with Cree Nation Government leaders to address citizens concerns.