Northern Ontario Cree Nation dealing with severe nursing shortage


A First Nation in northern Ontario says it is in a health-care crisis due to a severe nursing shortage.

The Kashechewan First Nation nursing station normally operates with nine primary care nurses but for the past month that number has been down to three.

As a result, health director Jonathan Solomon says it is emergency services only.

“The walks-ins that used to come in every day or appointments, they don’t even take appointments,” he says. “Blood work, people with diabetes or prenatals. We’ve got women here that haven’t had their prenatal appointments for quite some time now.”

Solomon says the situation is further complicated by the fact Kashechewan is located on the shore of James Bay and is a fly-in-only community for most of the year.

“I also have to acknowledge that there’s a shortage of nurses across the province or across the country,” he says. “I acknowledge that.

“But, at the same time, like the press release says, we’re isolated, we’re remote, we cannot jump into a vehicle and go into another health centre. So that is the situation we are in.”

Recruitment and retention 

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) recently announced increases in both recruitment and retention allowances for nurses working in the communities it serves.

Solomon says it’s a good start but more needs to be done.

Canadian Nurses Association President Sylvain Brousseau agrees.

He says governments need to create a healthy and safe work environment for nurses along with stepping up  recruitment of Indigenous nurses.

“Promote the nursing profession even among Indigenous high school students,” Brousseau says. “Increase Indigenous recruitment and retentions through the nursing student program.

“Bursary, mentoring, and also about creating academic and experiential opportunities for them. For instance, we should include the inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing and being into the nursing academic program.”

Brousseau adds now is the time to tackle the national nursing shortage and the window of opportunity is quickly closing.

In a crisis

“We are in a crisis and this is something, as I said, since five, 10, 15, 20 years and we cannot keep it like that because it’s going to be – I don’t want to be negative – it’s going to be a collective burnout. I mean it doesn’t make sense that we – nurses – always work overtime, overtime, all the time.”

In an emailed statement to APTN News, ISC says violence against nurses is part of the problem.

“We are aware of a few recent incidents of violence against the nurses at the Kashechewan First Nation nursing station,” the ISC statement said. “Any form of violence is unacceptable.

“ISC is working closely with community leadership and partners to address staffing challenges and advance long-term solutions. This includes working to respond to immediate staffing needs as quickly as possible, with the number of nurses available at the nursing station set to increase over the coming weeks, as well as a number of security personnel to support the safety and security of the nursing station.”

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.