This is the first instalment in a two-part series. Some Fort Resolution residents are calling for better first-response treatment and a shakeup of nursing management at the Denı́nu Kų́ę́ Health and Social Services Centre.
Trudy King, Dollie Simon, Lucy Fabien, and Ramona Fordy, who all live in the South Slave community, say that the local health centre — built in 2018 — has had an array of problems largely because community nurses do not provide emergency response.
They allege incompetence from community nurses and management, a lack of patient-client professionalism, a lack of reliable staffing and even systemic discrimination. Commonly, they say they feel helpless when trying to voice their complaints.
King, who was born and raised in Fort Resolution, said she has had more than one serious health scare within the last year which she feels was not responded to with the urgency required.
One day last August, someone close to their family was suffering from cramps and visited the health centre. Upon arriving, she said the young woman, who has asked not to be named, was given an Aspirin and told to go home.
After she got home, the young woman unexpectedly delivered a baby girl, not knowing she was pregnant.
“She had a baby and thank God, I watch TV,” King recalled. “I scooped the baby up and I called out to… get me a clean towel. I wrapped the baby up in the towel.
“I took off to the health centre… but the problem was that the health centre would not send anybody to the house.”
In a separate incident, her son Jonathan experienced extreme pain in his midsection one day this past January. He went to the health centre and after being seen, he spent the next five hours yelling in pain.
“I asked the nurse on the phone why is she holding him there for nothing when he’s in a lot of pain, and while I’m talking to her on the phone, I could hear him yelling, ‘Mom, help me,’” King recalled.
She said the nurse eventually asked her to take her son to Hay River in her truck, but the vehicle was not roadworthy to make the two-plus hour trip.
She successfully advocated for the health centre to send a taxi to transport him to Hay River for treatment, she added.
“They did a scan on him and from Hay River medevaced him at three o’clock in the morning to Yellowknife to find out that he had a hole in his intestine,” said King. “He’s very lucky to be alive.”
Billed for baby’s travel
Simon’s concern relates to medical travel as she said her family was charged for her grandson’s medevac flight to Edmonton.
“My grandson was born two years ago and he had complications — breathing problems — in Yellowknife and so he was medevaced to Edmonton,” she explained. “Mom couldn’t go and another baby was on the same flight. Mom went the next day.
“My concern is that although he was really well taken care of, he keeps getting a medevac bill for $4,500, on his name — a newborn baby.
“I told (my daughter) not to pay it and he keeps getting billed.”
Fabien, who’s undergoing treatment for lung cancer, has to get regular bloodwork for her chemotherapy at the health centre. She said she has been kept waiting in the past when nurses were on duty and could have assisted her. There are also problems with staff laughing and gossiping, which doesn’t feel welcome, she added.
“I go there every week for eight weeks for bloodwork and then I have to take two weeks off,” she explained. “A couple months ago, we went there for my bloodwork and they cancelled because they had an emergency. They said they couldn’t take my blood when there were three nurses there and the process only takes five minutes.”
She said she was forced, at her own expense, to get the treatment she needed by travelling to Hay River.
Richard Edjericon, MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, said the amount of health-related stories he has been hearing since he won the byelection in January has been overwhelming at times.
He believes there is a different level of treatment that his constituents receive compared to what people get in larger centres.
“They did build a $20-million facility (in Fort Resolution in 2018) but the services they’re providing are not the same as the services in Yellowknife,” Edjericon said. “The (health staff) that are here (in Fort Resolution) don’t take their job seriously.”
Edjericon said he believes that there needs to be a better connection between health centre staff and local residents.
Multiple people in the community told NNSL Media that a major source of frustration is a 2019 policy that prevents community health nurses from leaving the health centre to provide home emergency services.
Laney Beaulieu, a medical school student from Fort Resolution, told CBC last year that there’s a lack of emergency responders, other than health nurses.
She said recently that the problem persists.
“I think there’s a big problem with high turnover and the no house-call policy has been very damaging for the nurse-patient relationship due to the contribution it has had to deaths in the community,” Beaulieu said.
NWT Health and Social Services Authority spokesperson David Maguire stated that the health authority aims to provide equal health service among all 14 communities, including Fort Resolution, and that there are formal avenues to complain when people don’t feel they get the service they deserve.
“Health centre staff provide home visits for anyone who requires homecare (Elders, people with disabilities), (and) they also complete home visits for well-child appointments for newborns,” Maguire said. “Provision of first response, such as responding to emergencies outside the health centre, is outside of nursing scope of practice and skillset.”
He added that community governments often do provide ground ambulance on a full-time or part-time basis, and that the service is supported by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
In regards to medevacs, air ambulance fees are invoiced to patients who do not have active NWT health care coverage, according to Maguire.
When a client has access to third-party insurance or employer benefit, the cost of emergency transportation services may be invoiced to them to coordinate payment through their insurance or benefit provider, he stated. The NTHSSA provides a letter to clients explaining the process as well as a contact phone to call if they have questions, Maguire added.