Thunder Bay·Audio

Daytime health services resume in Pikangikum First Nation after nurses leave following OPP expulsion

Primary health care services resumed Monday in Pikangikum First Nation after Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) practitioners left the community the evening of March 20.
A patch from an officer's uniform reading OPP.
The decision to expel the OPP from Pikangikum First Nation is having an effect on health care, with Indigenous Services Canada not allowing nursing staff to remain in the community overnight; all nurses are being flown out of Pikangikum each night, the community said. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Primary health care services resumed Monday in Pikangikum First Nation after Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) practitioners left the community the evening of March 20.

The agency's registered nurses and paramedics left due to "safety and security concerns" after the chief and council of Pikangikum First Nation expelled ten Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) from the community over allegations of incidents involving OPP constables.

After OPP officers left Pikangikum First Nation, which is located about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont., six First Nation constables remained. The constables are employed by the community itself, and aren't part of an external police service.

"The choice to relocate the healthcare staff after hours was not a decision that was taken lightly and was only done after careful consideration and planning to ensure resources are in place to serve community members in the event medical assistance is required," reads a statement from an ISC spokesperson sent to CBC News Monday night.

According to ISC, primary health care operations during the day resumed with regular business hours as of Monday, however the agency continues to assess the overnight presence of practitioners on a daily basis.

The fly-in community of Pikangikum First Nation is located approximately 500 km northwest of Thunder Bay Ont., and is home to approximately 3,600. (CBC)

The agency said there are currently plans in place to deliver health services to the community overnight through telehealth or phone communication with a neighbouring health facility. If necessary, emergency cases will be transported to the closest health facility that has the proper equipment and staff to treat patients.

"ISC continues to engage with Pikangikum First Nation Chief Owen, Nishnawbe Aski Nation and SLFNHA [Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority] as we manage the situation. We are working to find a long-term solution that meets the health and security needs of both community members and healthcare workers," said an ISC spokesperson.

The government agency said it is also working with the SLFNHA Mental Wellness Team to ensure support is available to the community, adding that the Meno Ya Win Health Centre in Sioux Lookout and ORNGE are aware of the situation.

"ISC has reaffirmed its commitment to community members and has confirmed its interest in the resumption of normal operations. ISC also remains committed to support the community's administration of phase two of Covid19 vaccine rollout," reads the emailed statement.

Investigation ongoing

While ISC and regional organizations work to restore normal operations at the local nursing station, the investigation into the allegations that led to the expulsion of officers remain ongoing by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

In an emailed statement sent to CBC News on March 23, the SIU confirmed their agency had been notified by OPP of two complaints which alleged that women were sexually assaulted by members of the OPP in Pikangikum First Nation.

With files from Olivia Levesque and CBC's Up North