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Medical charter flights to cut travel time for James Bay Cree

The Cree Board of Health and Social Services and Air Creebec have partnered to run flights for patients four days a week to and from Val-d'Or and Montreal via Chisasibi.

Air Creebec, Cree health board partner to run flights for patients 4 days a week to Val-d'Or, Montreal

The inaugural medical charter flight from Montreal lands in Chisasibi, Que., on Monday. (Gaston Cooper/Air Creebec)

A medical air charter to transport patients from the remote Cree communities in the James Bay region of Quebec back and forth to the regional centres of Val-d'Or and Montreal has been launched by a partnership of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services and Air Creebec. 

"I'm really proud for this project to become a reality," said Bella Moses Petawabano, the board of health chairperson, after an inaugural flight Monday between Trudeau International Airport in Montreal and Chisasibi.

Bella Moses Petawabano, chair of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, pictured here in 2015 on a health board charter plane. (Gaston Cooper/Air Creebec)

"It's been talked about since 2007."

The Cree Patient Air Shuttle will operate four to five times a week between Chisasibi and, on alternating days, Montreal or Val-d'Or. Three Dash 8-100 turboprop planes have been specially equipped for the flights.

The service will considerably reduce travel time for patients. Chisasibi Hospital is the only hospital in the James Bay region. People living here are often required to travel south to see a specialist, a journey that, even by air, can take all day via commercial flights.

"By having a dedicated patient shuttle, our patients will travel more quickly and comfortably to their appointments, specialist consultations, diagnostic tests and surgeries," said Chisasibi physician Dr. Darlene Kitty, president of the Council of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

A view inside one of the three specially-equipped Dash 8-100 turboprop planes to be used for the medical charter flights between Chisasibi and Montreal of Val-d'Or. (Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay)

Chisasibi Hospital has an emergency department and in-patient ward with 29 beds, but is not equipped or staffed to offer services such as delivering babies, surgery, cancer treatment, or advanced diagnostics such as MRIs.

A release from the Cree board of health said that between April 2014 and March 2015, 8,427 patients were sent for medical treatment outside their home community.

Moses-Petawabano says the priority of the charter is to reduce travel time and improve service, but that will also save the Quebec health care system money by replacing the use of commercial flights for regular medical travel and possibly reducing the need for costly air ambulances.

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