Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nursing shortages plague reserves

Ottawa downplays a severe problem its own data reveal

  • Print

A severe nursing shortage has plagued remote Manitoba First Nations for the last three years, forcing two nursing stations to temporarily close and a dozen others to work with a mere fraction of their regular staff.

Data obtained through a federal access-to-information request reveal that the majority of Manitoba's 21 nursing stations were short an average of 45 per cent of their nurses between 2006 and 2009.

Health Canada data show that 13 of all nursing stations on northern Manitoba reserves were short more than half their regular complement of nurses for an entire year. Eight communities were short more than half their nursing staff for multiple calendar years.

For one year, two remote northern communities -- Shamattawa and Pauingassi -- averaged zero staff, and the nursing stations were forced to close for days at a time until relief staff could be flown in.

First Nations leaders say the chronic shortages make it more difficult to recruit nurses to northern communities and result in stressed-out, overworked staff who are more apt to make mistakes.

A recent Free Press investigation into tuberculosis revealed that a 2006 outbreak in Garden Hill went undetected for eight months after infectious patients said they visited the nursing station but were told to go home and take Tylenol. At the time, the nursing station was short five nurses.

"I think the longer we wait, the more lives we're going to lose," said Shamattawa First Nation Chief Jeffrey Napoakesik. "There's only so much this person can do with a stethoscope."

Health Canada refused an interview request from the Free Press. A federal spokeswoman sent an email statement denying that any nursing station in a Manitoba community was temporarily closed due to staff shortages -- even though their own federal data obtained by the Free Press refute that.

"In the past, there have been occasions where nursing stations have been closed due to staff shortages. However, in the last three years this has not occurred," the statement said.

The statement said some nursing stations have been temporarily closed due to "weather conditions."

Napoakesik said the nursing shortage was so bad in Shamattawa in 2007, the nursing station was forced to shut down for days at a time until relief nurses could be flown in.

Things haven't improved much since. Current data from 2009 show Shamattwa has the second-worst shortages in the province and is short 72 per cent of its regular full-time nurses.

"I remember that year that Health Canada (said they) would have no choice but to close the nursing station because there was no staff at that time," Napoakesik said.

About 1,350 people live in Shamattawa, a fly-in community on the north shore of God's River, 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Napoakesik said a doctor flies in twice a month, but there are still not enough nurses or doctors to deal with the health needs of a growing community. He said the nursing station is slated for an upgrade, since the medical equipment is so out of date there are no longer parts made to repair a broken X-ray machine.

The fallout, Napoakesik said, is a lack of access to proper medical care. Last week, he said, an elderly man died of a cancer that went undetected at the nursing station for a long time. Napoakesik said the community is upset that the man was not flown out for treatment and was told there was nothing wrong with him.

"This has to stop," said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper, the head of the lobby group that represents 30 northern First Nations.

"They (nurses) are not doctors and they're stressed out. We applaud their work and what they're trying to do, but there's going to be times when mistakes happen, and mistakes have happened."

Earlier this year, six-month-old Chace Barkman died of meningitis after his parents were repeatedly sent home from the Garden Hill nursing station with instructions to treat the baby's fever with a cool bath and Tylenol.

By the time he was flown for emergency treatment in Winnipeg, it was too late, and he died eight days later.

Harper said there needs to be a better way to recruit and train nurses from northern communities, because nurses are reluctant to sign up to work under the current high-stress conditions.

He said programs to train licensed practical nurses are underway in Oxford House and St. Theresa Point, but there are no LPN positions available in any nursing station.

"The numbers of nurses per population in First Nations communities is a third of what it is in the Canadian average," Harper said. "We don't have proper medical care."

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Pandemic

preparation

 

Will there be extra staff during a pandemic?

Health Canada said in an email statement that the federal government contracts with nursing agencies to fill vacancies in nursing stations.

While they didn't say what that means for a pandemic, a spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said there are more than 100 doctors, nurses and medical residents who have signed up to volunteer to help out in northern communities in the event pandemic flu hits a remote First Nation.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs reports that more than 40,000 people on reserves have been vaccinated against H1N1 -- close to half of the population in The stats

 

Who was the most short-staffed?

 

Health Canada supplied the Free Press with average nurse-shortage percentages for each calendar year between 2006 and 2009.

2006 -- Pauingassi, short 100 per cent of its nurses

2007 -- Shamattawa, short 100 per cent of its nurses

2008 -- Wasagamack, short 88 per cent of its nurses

2009 -- Pauingassi, short 79 per cent of its nurses

Who had the most staff?

 

Pukatawagan had a full complement of nurses for 2006, 2007, and 2008 -- the only community that recorded no nursing vacancies during that time. But the community has been short an average of 48 per cent of its nurses in 2009.

In 2009, the lowest vacancy rate in a nursing station was recorded in Garden Hill, which is short 21 per cent of its regular full-time nurses.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2009 A4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Sneak peek: The galleries of CMHR

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Korea Veterans Association stained glass window at Deer Lodge Centre. Dedication with Minister of Veterans Affairs Dr. Rey Pagtakhan. March 12, 2003.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the Scottish independence referendum will have an effect in Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google