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This article was published 23/4/2009 (4819 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Another infant from Garden Hill is fighting for her life in a Winnipeg hospital under similar circumstances that contributed to the death last month of a six-month-old baby from the northern reserve.
On Tuesday, the parents of the year-old baby tried repeatedly to have their daughter seen by nurses at the nursing station in Garden Hill, but the overworked staff sent her home. The distraught family called the band police for help, and when the cops drove the baby back to the nursing station she was finally seen and her condition deemed grave enough for an emergency air flight to Winnipeg where she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
The incident occurred less than a month after six-month-old Chace Barkman died of meningitis. His parents were sent home from the nursing station repeatedly with instructions to treat his fever with a cool bath and Tylenol. By the time he was finally medivaced to Winnipeg it was too late and he died eight days later, on March 27.
The incidents are part of a string of health care calamities that prompted Garden Hill Chief David Harper to fly to Ottawa Thursday and plead his case for improved health care.
"This is a wake-up call," Harper said.
He is asking for a national task force on First Nations health care and for funding for a hospital in Garden Hill.
Five years ago it was estimated it would cost $300 million to build a 12-bed hospital for the Island Lake region of four reserves, including Garden Hill.
It would serve a population of over 10,000 people.
Right now the reserves are served by nursing stations. In Garden Hill, the station is staffed by two full-time nurses and two part-time nurses. A doctor flies in up to 16 times a month but since January has been there just 15 days total.
Any patient needing health care beyond the basics is flown to Winnipeg. Ottawa spent $60 million last year on medivacs from the four Island Lake reserves including Garden Hill.
Harper compared Garden Hill's health care services to those in Neepawa, a town of 3,200 people with a 38-bed hospital and six full-time doctors.
"Is this the great place we call Canada," he asked. "Canada can do better than that."
Harper said he has repeatedly asked Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to visit Garden Hill and see for herself the poor state of health care delivery but the invitations have been ignored. He hoped to meet with her in Ottawa but instead met with Health Canada bureaucrats and Aglukkaq's chief of staff.
Aglukkaq's spokeswoman, Josee Bellemare, said the government is committed to providing quality health care in Garden Hill.
"We are currently looking into Chief David Harper's concerns," she said.
She said Garden Hill has a new nursing station, built in 2004, which provides primary health care, public health and emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But Harper says the nursing station system needs to be completely overhauled because it is not working.
The nurses, says Harper, are so overworked, they don't have the time to see all the patients that need their help or to provide the best quality care to the patients they can see.
That's why, he says, the nurses refused to see the baby girl who ultimately was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He also believes that's why a six-month-old-baby was given medication two weeks ago that had expired almost 11 months earlier. Harper adds it's also likely why both Chace and his twin brother, Grant, were not properly diagnosed at the nursing station.
Grant, who was flown to Winnipeg for treatment only after Chace's doctor in Winnipeg demanded it happen, has since been released from hospital but it's not yet known whether he will ever make a full recovery.
"We need the government, we need a hospital," said Mark Munroe, Chace's grandfather, who along with Chace and Grant's parents, travelled to Ottawa with Chief Harper.
"We come here to plead for help. I hope the government of Canada receives this message."