Tsiigehtchic elders ask N.W.T. premier for a full-time nurse

The Elders Committee in Tsiigehtchic held an emergency meeting on the community's nursing situation on Wednesday, the same day a public health emergency was declared in the Northwest Territories.

A nurse from Inuvik currently visits the community once a week

Elders in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., say they want a permanent nurse in the community, especially given a public health emergency has been declared in the territory. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

As the Northwest Territories and the rest of Canada continue to practise social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, the community of Tsiigehtchic is asking the territorial government for a permanent nurse.

The Elders Committee in Tsiigehtchic held an emergency meeting regarding the situation on Wednesday.

"Now it's almost like an emergency situation where we need to have someone here," said James Andre, president of the committee.

Although the charter community has a permanent nurse during periods of river break-up and freeze-up — when no one can drive to or from the community — a nurse comes to Tsiigehtchic from Inuvik just once a week during the rest of the year.

Andre said the community has long wanted a permanent nurse, but that's increased since N.W.T. Health Minister Diane Thom declared a public health emergency in the territory on Wednesday.

At least 20 per cent of our community members are at risk if [COVID-19] makes it into our town.- James Andre, president, Tsiigehtchic Elders Committee

As of Thursday at 1 p.m. there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories, and 222 tests had come back negative. 

Andre penned a formal letter to N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane on behalf of elders in Tsiigehtchic. 

"In the past, we have had serious medical situations arise and it's been up to the community members to stabilize the person before sending them out of the community," the letter reads in part.

"We only have a small population, but at least 20 per cent of our community members are at risk if [COVID-19] makes it into our town," it adds. "How are we going to deal with it? We have no nurse."

Tsiigehtchic had a population of 198 in 2018, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics. 

Frederick Blake, the MLA for the Mackenzie Delta and Speaker of the House, also attended Wednesday's meeting. He said the lack of a permanent nurse in the community is something he brought up right away to the territory's Department of Health and Social Services.

"I knew it was going to be a concern right away … we are still working on getting a nurse in the community," he said.

"We have a number of elders here that are at risk, so that is why we were trying to get the nurse in right away … with COVID-19 our biggest concerns are our elders."

The Department of Health did not respond to CBC's request for comment by the time of publication.