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Pimicikamak Cree Nation chief declares state of emergency over nursing shortage

A First Nation community in northern Manitoba declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon over a lack of nurses.

According to First Nations leadership, Pimicikamak Cree Nation – also known as Cross Lake – had just four nurses caring for a community of more than 8,000 people. They said that number should be at least 13 in order to operate the community’s nursing station, though the size of the population requires around 24 nurses.

“Working at four nurses, five nurses for 24 hour periods, seven days a week is extremely dangerous,” said Helga Hamilton, Cross Lake health director.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation Chief David Monias said the situation has been going on for some time and nurses are nearing their breaking point.

“These people continue to have issues in terms of being overtired, overworked,” he said in a press conference Friday. “They’re getting to a point where some people have died in the past, and also some people have really become gravely ill…as a result of people not having enough medical service on at the local level.”

Hamilton also pointed out how isolated the Cross Lake community is, as it’s located 550 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

“We don’t have any access to any other form of health care,” Hamilton said. “If we were in the city, if we were in Steinbach, Winkler, you can go to a walk-in clinic, you can go to all these other places to seek health care. We have just the nursing station here, that’s it.”

Monias called on all levels of government for help, specifically to supply more nurses and physicians.

“There has to be some action as our people are dying,” he said. “They’re practically dying on nursing station floors because their care cannot be kept up.”

According to Hamilton, the province is responsible for physicians while nurses fall under Indigenous Services Canada as part of its First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

Monias also asked to make sure the community receives equitable medical services alongside people across the country.

“Health is a human right it’s a legal right, it’s a treaty right, and we have to be sure these are fulfilled,” he said.

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