‘So much hardship’: Communities call out province for lack of health-care workers

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post Beardy's and Okemasis' Cree Nation Chief Edwin Ananas speaks inside the rotunda after question period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, May 9, 2024 in Regina.

“For it to go as long as it did unnoticed is unacceptable,” said Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation Chief Edwin Ananas.

Angela Amato

Regina Leader-Post

As the communities of Duck Lake and Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation struggle to find health-care providers, residents are being forced to travel, sometimes for hours, to get medical care or simply go without.

“It’s having a ripple effect on our community,” said Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation Chief Edwin Ananas from the legislature Thursday. “People who don’t have access to go to the city to see a doctor, they go without. It’s causing so much hardship in our community.”

Ananas was joined by other delegates from his community and the nearby town of Duck Lake to speak with Tim McLeod, who’s the provincial minister of mental health and addictions, seniors and rural and remote health. The visitors are calling for a game plan to address what they referred to as a critical lack of physicians and nurses in the area.

“It’s a serious issue and for it to go as long as it did unnoticed is unacceptable to me as a leader,” Ananas said after question period.

The reserve lost its family doctor last summer. Since then, 1,000 of 1,600 people living on the reserve do not have access to one, said an NDP news release.

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post
Goodwill Manor board chair Ray Gauthier speaks inside the rotunda after question period at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, May 9, 2024 in Regina.

“We see people go without prenatal care, we see people go without addictions care, we see empty beds in a long-term care home at a time we desperately need to ensure those beds are filled,” said Opposition Leader Carla Beck.

While the town of Rosthern is relatively close to both communities, the hospital has faced multiple closures in recent months due to shortages of doctors and nurses.

“It’s been an ongoing issue for First Nations people,” Ananas said. “It’s only getting worse because of the shortage.”

With the departure of the Beardy’s family doctor, he said the Opioid Agonist Therapy program abruptly stopped, resulting in a number of community members falling back into addictions.

Goodwill Manor, a nursing home in Duck Lake, is operating at a third of its total capacity with only eight beds. The home’s board chair, Raymond Gauthier, says they’ve had a shortage of doctors for over two years and suggests the provincial government get “creative” with a solution.

“A nurse practitioner or a doctor’s assistant would do the trick for us,” he said. “Just give us something.”

Gauthier said at one point they were notified that two physicians would be available at Rosthern but, by the time they got the call, it was too late because the physicians were fully booked.

Speaking to media after question period, McLeod said he was sorry that correspondence sent by the communities in January went unanswered by the ministry.

“We were already working on it and continue to work on it,” he said, adding he would provide more information to them in a meeting that was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

McLeod highlighted ongoing work being done by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to restore and stabilize staffing shortages “as quickly as possible.”

A recent survey from the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses revealed that 85 per cent of nurses in the province feel a lack of staffing is putting patients at risk, with 58 per cent saying they are considering leaving Saskatchewan’s health-care system.