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Feds couldn't keep up with Indigenous communities' demand for nurses, paramedics: AG

OTTAWA — The federal government was unable to meet more than half of the demands for nurses and paramedics from Indigenous communities and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the auditor general in a report released Wednesday.

Karen Hogan also found that Indigenous Services Canada didn’t have fulsome data on how much personal protective equipment it had available when the pandemic began.

“The lack of complete and accurate data on the contents of the PPE stockpile made it difficult for the department to monitor its inventory levels and determine its needs,” Hogan said in her audit.

The department also didn’t have enough of some items, including gloves and hand sanitizer, but it was able adjust its approach to respond to the needs of the Indigenous communities.

“We found weaknesses in the way that Indigenous Services Canada managed its stockpile of PPE,” she said.

Hogan said the department was able to step up with these supplies and ship them to Indigenous communities and groups when provinces and territories were unable to do so.

The department also expanded access to contract nurses and paramedics to all Indigenous communities and streamlined its hiring processes, according to the audit.

But with increasing demand, the department was unable to meet more than half of the 963 of the requests for such personnel to be made available.

The department employs primary health care workers to deliver direct health care services in 51 remote or isolated First Nations communities.

The report said nurses in these communities work out of nursing stations or health centres and are often the only health care providers working on site.

They work in pairs or small groups, often with little or no on-site support from other health care professionals, according to the report.

The department also provides funding to First Nations communities and First Nations health authorities so they can employ health care workers to provide health care services.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 26, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press