A woman from a small hamlet in Alberta says she is trying to get equal health care in her community after struggling to get care at home after her open heart surgery.
Nearly 100 people live in Smith’s Landing First Nation and Fort Fitzgerald. The nearest health care center is in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, approximately 24 kilometers away. Because the center is across the provincial border, residents of Alberta have had problems accessing health care.
Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council board member Beverly Tupper said it was an ongoing problem. She ran into the problem while trying to get home care after surgery in 2013, but Fort Smith workers couldn’t help her because of where she lived.
She said nothing has changed since then, which was the catalyst for her joining the health advisory board.
“It’s frustrating,” Tupper said. “It’s unfair to be a Canadian resident…and not be able to access the same level of health care services that people 22 kilometers away can easily access.”
Tupper said she would like to see an agreement between provincial and territorial governments. She said solutions could include getting nurses licensed to work in both Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Andrew Wind, acting director of communications for the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that Fort Fitzgerald falls under Alberta jurisdiction and the province will need to find a solution.
The program aims to meet the needs of residents of the Northwest Territories and there are barriers, including licensing, that prevent territorial nurses from working in Alberta. Another hurdle is billing, Wind said.
The Alberta government has yet to respond to CBC’s request for comment.
Smith’s Landing First Nation Chief Thaidene Paulette said the problem was not new and he had “lived with this problem all his life”.
“Seniors or people in need of health care on reservations just can’t get the home care staff to come from the Fort Smith Health Center which is about two minutes away,” Paulette said. .
Midwifery services are the same, Paulette said. It was especially frustrating for her mother who was a midwife. She could help people in Fort Smith, but not in Fort Fitzgerald where she lived.
“It’s so absurd,” Paulette said.
Historically, many First Nations people who lived in Fort Fitzgerald were relocated in the 1950s to Fort Smith. Now, many people would like to return to Smith’s Landing, but health care may be a hindrance.
“We want to have the ability to provide housing for seniors,” Paulette said. “But without having the services there, we don’t want to leave these people stuck if they need home care services.”
He is now working with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch to find a solution.
“It’s all our traditional territory, but you get a slapped boundary between us, so it creates all these problems,” Paulette said.
Smith’s Landing resident Agnes Cheezie struggled with the healthcare system when her late husband developed a blood disease after surgery in 2015.
Without home care services, Cheezie had to bring her husband to the health center almost every day. He was a tall man and Cheezie had trouble carrying him back and forth. On top of that, Cheezie had recently undergone abdominal surgery and was suffering from an infection.
“If we had home care, that would have been a huge help,” Cheezie said.
She said she would like to see an agreement between governments so that Smith’s Landing residents can be considered equal to NWT residents in the healthcare system.