On-reserve COVID-19 testing set up in Algonquin First Nation after complaints

The First Nations and Inuit Health branch reached an agreement Monday with a Quebec regional health authority to provide COVID-19 testing to a remote Algonquin First Nation, which said it was being left behind in preparations for the pandemic. 

Algonquins of Barriere Lake in northwestern Quebec complained no coordination with nursing station

The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch have an agreement with a Quebec regional health authority to equip nurses for on-reserve COVID-19 screening in a remote Algonquin First Nation. (Nova Scotia Health Authority)

An Algonquin First Nation will receive on-reserve COVID-19 testing after all, following its complaints that it was being forgotten. 

The First Nations and Inuit Health Branch reached an agreement Monday with a Quebec regional health authority to provide the diagnostic service for Algonquins of Barriere Lake. 

The regional executive director for the branch informed Barriere Lake Chief Casey Ratt by letter Monday that the department had reached an agreement with the Centre intégré de santé et services sociaux d'Outaouais.

The department will provide COVID-19 testing kits to nurses at the nursing station in the community, which sits about 270 km north of Ottawa. 

The agreement also includes access to a doctor by telephone from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. "to respond to minor health needs, rather than transporting clients out of the community," according to the letter from Richard Budgell, regional executive director for the branch. 

Ratt is pleased with the decision. He had written to Budgell on Friday requesting immediate assistance with COVID-19 preparations and questioning whether there was adequate coordination between the band and the nursing clinic.

"It's not a very good situation right now. If the virus should hit the community, it would just devastate the community," said Ratt, describing what he said in the letter. "And a lot of [band members] have diabetes and have health issues." 

Ratt was also worried about the nursing station's inability to provide antibiotics — which requires a doctor's prescription — to deal with things like ear infections without having to go to the hospital. That will now be dealt with through the telephone line to a doctor. 

However, Ratt said the community is still short on supplies like hand sanitizers, face masks and gloves. The department told him there is a backlog of orders, he said. 

"We got two out of three," said Ratt.

Contacted Red Cross for cots

Ratt said the nursing station wouldn't supply face masks and gloves last Friday to elders who needed to buy groceries in the town of Maniwaki, Que, which sits about 139 km to the south.

Ratt said his community of about 400 barely has any supplies and he's been unable to coordinate pandemic planning with the on-reserve nursing station, which generally has two nurses on call. A former nurse helped the community develop a pandemic plan and the community obtained cots, blankets and pillows from the Red Cross for a potential isolation space they plan to set up in the daycare and the gym.

Ratt said Quebec has also informed the community that it would not provide ambulance services for Barriere Lake members who suffer from COVID-19 symptoms. He said they have to provide their own transportation.

"We don't even have our own personal protection equipment for our drivers," said Ratt.

Budgell said he was not aware of any directive from the province on ambulance services and he asked Ratt to share the source of the information in his letter. 

Budgell's letter said that the department communicated with the nurses in the community on March 12 to discuss implementing measures to deal with any cases.

The letter said that the supervising nurse in Barriere Lake relayed concerns to the regional federal office following a meeting on March 16 with the community's pandemic committee. The letter also noted the department indicated in a March 18 call it is willing to facilitate communication between the nurse supervisor and the communication. 

The regional office is also holding weekly meetings with Quebec chiefs on updates to COVID-19 preparations, the letter said.

Budgell's letter said there were two incidents this week involving band staff who "entered the secure nursing zone without authorization." The letter said they "communicated disrespectfully" with the nurses on site. 

"Although we understand that this is a stressful time, ensuring a safe environment for everyone is a priority in order to be able to continue providing services to your community," said the letter.