Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Medical workers respond to plea

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FRESH off the plane from St. Theresa Point First Nation, Health Minister Theresa Oswald said two doctors and two nurses have responded to her urgent call for medical help in Manitoba's northern communities.St. Theresa Point, located 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has at least nine confirmed cases of H1N1, while dozens of other residents have been flown to Winnipeg for treatment after reporting severe flu-like symptoms.

On Thursday, Oswald pleaded for more doctors and nurses to serve in northern First Nations communities as the virus continues to spread. Neighbouring Garden Hill First Nation has also been afflicted with two confirmed cases of swine flu, including an 18-month-old boy.

"Right now, we have an additional four personnel that have committed -- two doctors and two nurse practitioners -- which is excellent, but that's not yet enough," Oswald said, adding she believes more health professionals will step forward as her call to action reaches more people.

"I am going to say right now that there will be no number (of doctors and nurses) that I will consider enough, so I want more to come forward and arrange for today, for tomorrow and well into late August."

It has yet to be determined where the four recruits will be sent, but Oswald said the decision would be made soon so they can begin their work swiftly.

The visit to St. Theresa Point allowed provincial health officials to speak directly with the community's leadership and residents, and answer their questions.

Oswald was accompanied by Dr. Joel Kettner, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer and Dr. Catherine Cook, who specializes in aboriginal health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Oswald spoke positively about her interactions with both the federal nurses who run the local nursing station, and the Northern Medical Unit doctor who is currently stationed in St. Theresa Point.

"The medical personnel there are second to none, they're working very hard and they're keeping people calm. It is not a situation of chaos -- it's a situation of control, of calm, and of care," she said.

The trip also allowed Oswald to see first-hand what supplies are available in St. Theresa Point, and she said the community appears to have enough surgical masks and other material to meet their needs at this time.

Oswald -- who said she did not wear a mask during her visit -- and Kettner stressed there is no risk in travelling to St. Theresa Point.

"It's not dangerous and everyday business should continue," said Kettner.

"Judges can hold court in the north, and transport drivers can drive up with the needed food and supplies, and doctors and nurses can safely work in those communities."

arielle.godbout@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2009 A3

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