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'We're begging': Leaf Rapids sends cry for help to fix healthcare in the north


A Northern Manitoba woman says she hopes a letter she wrote will give Manitobans a better idea of the dire state of healthcare in her community, and she wants those with easy access to healthcare to imagine what life must be like for those who live in Leaf Rapids.

"As concerned citizens of Leaf Rapids we're asking, we're begging that our health and well-being finally be taken seriously,'' Leaf Rapids resident Liz Charrier wrote in a letter she recently sent to the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and that has since been shared publicly.

"This letter is our community's long overdue cry for help in addressing these long-term issues of inaccessible healthcare in our community, as well as in other northern communities.''

On Monday the Leaf Rapids Health Centre, a healthcare facility in the remote community of 580 residents that sits 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, opened back up after being closed since Dec. 27 because of what the Northern Health region said were "ongoing and persistent staff shortages.''

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When the healthcare centre in Leaf Rapids closed on Dec. 27, it marked the third time since the beginning of the pandemic that the facility had been forced to close because of staffing issues.

On Wednesday evening MKO, an organization that advocates for several northern First Nations communities and for residents in the north, held a virtual press conference and invited Charrier to come on and read parts of her letter.

"It is a regular occurrence for our community to be without a doctor for weeks at a time,'' Charrier said in the letter.

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"We have no family doctor, when we do have a doctor in town it's rarely the same doctor, so this makes it extremely difficult for doctors to diagnose medical issues and provide accurate medical treatment.''

And while the healthcare centre opened on Monday, the Northern Health region also warned in a Monday statement that the staffing situation remains "fragile'' in Leaf Rapids, and that they could not say for sure if the centre could be closed again in the near future.

Charrier said in her letter that the uncertainty of what healthcare services are going to be available from one day to the next are a source of great stress and frustration for many in Leaf Rapids and leave many to hope that they aren't forced to deal with a medical emergency.

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"Just take a minute to imagine that you or someone you love was in dire need of immediate medical attention,'' she wrote. "Now imagine travelling one hour to see the nearest doctor, by this point you could be dead.

"What if you lost someone you love prematurely because you could not access emergency services or even basic healthcare?

"This is the everyday fear and reality for the community members in Leaf Rapids.''

Charrier said she and many in the community are now asking that both the provincial and federal governments immediately step in to address healthcare in Leaf Rapids.

During Wednesday's press conference MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee referred to the state of healthcare in Leaf Rapids as "unacceptable'' and "unethical.''

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"These are our people, our relatives, and this is something where we cannot simply stand by and watch this happen,'' Settee said. "The people that are there are people that have human rights just like anyone else, and for me it is unacceptable that a community is abandoned by the system.

"It's simply unethical to wash our hands and leave people to fend for themselves, and it is something that I will not accept.''

On Thursday Northern Health responded to Charrier's letter in a statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun.

"The Northern Health Region understands the writer's frustration and is committed to seeking a long-term, sustainable solution to long-standing problems that have plagued the area residents for decades,'' a Northern Health spokesperson said.

"The Leaf Rapids Health Centre has had a 100% staff vacancy rate which means that we rely on agency nurses to fill shifts, as we have for years.

"Despite these challenges, compounded and exacerbated by COVID-19, the region is hopeful that our upcoming and ongoing discussions with MKO will bring us closer to those solutions for all community members.''

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