Conservatives Under Fire over First Nations Healthcare in Ontario and Manitoba

Chief Perry Bellegarde
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Newly Elected AFN National Chief Bellegarde - image by Derek Fox
Newly Elected AFN National Chief Bellegarde – image by Derek Fox

Auditor General Hits Hard on Harper Government on Healthcare in North

OTTAWA – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the Government of Canada must act on the recommendations in a report today by the Auditor General of Canada and work with First Nations to improve access to health services in remote First Nation communities.

“The findings of this report confirm what we have been saying for a number of years – health care services provided to First Nations people are totally inadequate,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “Too many of our people are dealing with under-funded and inadequate health services. We need to work now to start closing the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and other Canadians. This is about the health and safety of our children and families. The recommendations in today’s report set out some practical steps for Health Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and they must work with First Nations to improve access to health care.”

The Auditor General’s report brought out fire from the New Democrats as well. “Once again, we have another report showing how this Conservative government continues to fail Indigenous peoples in Canada,” said NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic Niki Ashton (Churchill). “It is completely unacceptable that this is how Canadian healthcare is being delivered in the 21st century.”

It is clear from the Auditor General that the government is making no effort to allocate resources based on need and has no way of determining how service delivery in First Nations communities is comparable to services in other remote areas in Canada.

New Democrats Charge Conservatives Ignoring Jordan’s Principle

“Jordan’s Principle, which was supposed to deal with the inter-jurisdictional challenges of healthcare services in Indigenous communities, has not been implemented,” said NDP critic for Aboriginal Heath Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing). “The Conservatives axed Aboriginal healthcare funding three years ago, and today we are seeing the consequences of those cuts.”

As part of its Spring 2015 Reports, the Office of the Auditor General this morning released a report on Access to Health Care for Remote First Nation Communities. The research, findings and 11 recommendations are focused the areas of nursing stations, medical transportation benefits, support allocation and comparable access and coordination of health services among jurisdictions. The findings show an historical allocation of resources rather than an approach based on the needs of the community, as well as significant deficiencies in training, facilities, administration and documentation of services. The assessments were done in remote First Nation communities in Ontario and Manitoba looked specifically at access to health care, not quality nor adequacy of resources.

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada (A.N.A.C.) are troubled by the auditor general’s findings on access to health services in remote First Nations communities. Of particular concern is the neglect for the principles of primary health care, the lack of federal support for the nurses who work in these locales, the inadequate allocation of resources and the repetition of problems from previous reports. In representing Canada’s registered nurses (RNs), CNA and A.N.A.C. speak for the predominant primary caregivers in these communities. In 2014, our organizations’ study on aboriginal health nursing and aboriginal health concluded that barriers and the need for better aboriginal health are well-documented, but that effective action is needed.

“The federal government has a mandated responsibility to ensure availability and access to health services for First Nations and Inuit communities and to help these communities achieve health levels comparable to other Canadians,” said CNA president Karima Velji. “Unless the federal government adopts new and different strategies, including targeted investments with key partners to meet their mandate, this gap in health status will continue to widen and perpetuate further disparities in education, employment, income and other areas.”

The auditor general’s report reinforces the 2014 CNA-A.N.A.C. study while underscoring the need for creative and innovative solutions. Many groups, including this federal government, have devoted significant energy and resources to improving health and well-being in First Nations communities, but they have yet to find widespread success.

“Aboriginal health inequities are deeply rooted in this country’s health system – from the lack of aboriginal nurses in leadership and direct care positions to the disregard for indigenous health practices,” said A.N.A.C. president Lisa Bourque-Bearskin. “The consequences of these inequities are clear in the evidence that access and health status for First Nations individuals in remote communities are not comparable to other residents in similar rural locations.”

Ontario Regional Chief Beardy – Follow the Protocol

Ontario Regional Chief Beardy
Ontario Regional Chief Beardy

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy stated, “While limited in its scope, the problems and challenges identified in this report are profound and with a subsequent examination of the quality and resourcing of health services would identify further areas for investment and improvement,” said AFN Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy who chairs the national Chiefs Committee on Health.

“There is an existing protocol between AFN and Health Canada’s First Nation and Inuit Health Branch that provide opportunity for follow up on the report’s recommendations and we will be looking to actively engage in the development and implementation of an action plan.”

The full report and recommendations is Full Report available here.