Thunder Bay

Doctors call on Canadian government to address critical nursing shortage in northern Indigenous communities

An ongoing nursing shortage in northern Ontario Indigenous communities will have serious consequences if not addressed quickly, a group of Canadian doctors says.

47 doctors send letter to Indigenous Services Canada minister requesting more health care funding

A group of doctors is calling on the federal government to address a critical shortage of nurses in remote Indigenous communities. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

An ongoing nursing shortage in northern Ontario Indigenous communities will have serious consequences if not addressed quickly, a group of Canadian doctors says.

The doctors have sent a letter to Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller, calling on the federal government to provide more funding to improve health care in remote Indigenous communities.

"COVID-19 just made it so glaring you couldn't look away," said Dr. Claudette Chase, who works in remote Indigenous communities and is one of the doctors who signed the letter.

"The needs have gone up, but the staffing hasn't," Chase said in an interview. "The infrastructure hasn't increased."

In a media release, the doctors said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue to "crisis level" in remote communities.

For example, the number of mental health emergencies is increasing due to prolonged periods of isolation, and nursing stations have become 24-hour emergency rooms, despite not being designed or staffed for that role.

Meanwhile, actual staffing numbers have not increased.

"The basic health care provision in the community is done mainly by nurses, and there aren't enough of them," Chase said. "The quota that each nursing station is given is, in my experience, usually less than what is required. And rarely are nurses staffed up to their full capacity."

But while increasing the number of nurses in remote communities is important, it's not the entire solution. Communities also need administrative staff, proper infrastructure, and housing.

Housing is especially important during the pandemic, the doctors said, as currently, nurses are often required to share accommodations, meaning they can't properly self-isolate.

Dr. Marilyn Koval, who also signed the letter, said a meeting with Indigenous Services Canada has been scheduled.

"They reached out to offer a meeting, which will happen on Monday morning, I think, to hopefully hear more about our concerns," Koval said. "And, I suspect, to tell us what's possible, what they have in the works.

"I would fully expect that [Miller] will respond to this letter with with more dollars for nurses, and accommodations for nurses, as well, which is equally important in administering support for the work that they do in the north."

now