In Canada, we take a lot of pride in our health care system. Seldom does a week go by where you don’t hear a joke about how superior our health care system is to that of our neighbours to the south.
Here in Kingston, our access to state of the art health care facilities is outstanding, thanks to the network of hospitals and Queen’s University that lead the way in Canadian health care.
But what about our neighbours to the north?
“It’s really like third world conditions there,” said Amanda Stolk, who runs the Indigenous Medical Alliance with her boyfriend, Michael Amesse, pointing out that isolation and a lack of clean water compound the issues those in northern Ontario face when dealing with health care problems.
“There are so many issues. We have a long way to go.”
Amesse and Stolk started the Indigenous Medical Alliance about a year and a half ago with the goal of collecting medical supplies and equipment here in Kingston, and then delivering it to those communities in northern Ontario that need them. They did just that last year, collecting over $100,000 worth of medical supplies to six communities in the James Bay area of northern Ontario (working with the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority).
The Alliance emerged from two things Amesse and Stolk were discussing at the time: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action; and the medical equipment Amesse, a Persona Support Worker (PSW), often saw being discarded after one of his clients passed away.
“A lot of what is thrown away when a someone passes is equipment, and a lot of the times this is very expensive, highly customized or very specific equipment that ends up thrown out after one or two uses, or some very light use,” Amesse said.
“We decided it just made sense: if we can get a hold of this stuff, then, instead of having the people who need it up there leave their homes and families in those communities – quite a lot of the times forever – just to seek medical treatment or to get some sort of mobility aid… Why don’t we just send up the equipment there and teach people how to use the equipment properly and safely, and then they can continue to live in their own homes with dignity rather than having to leave.”
Now, working in partnership with True North Aid, the Indigenous Medical Alliance has turned its attention to another area of northern Ontario that is deeply in need: the six member First Nations of the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Council. The Northern Chiefs Council of Keewaytinook Okimakanak serves the following communities: Poplar Hill First Nation; North Spirit Lake First Nation’ McDowell Lake First Nation; Keewaywin First Nation; Deer Lake First Nation, and; Fort Severn First Nation.
There, mobility issues as simple as needing a cane to walk can be crippling in more ways than one. Access to a doctor can take weeks, which is followed by weeks to seeing a specialist. If a person needs specially fitted leg braces, they’re often forced to leave home. Health issues like diabetes run rampant in these communities, and the issues associated with diabetes – and the lack of accessible and/or affordable supplies and clean water – can mean a disease that is easily treated in our area of the province can be deadly, Amesse and Stolk explained.
“This isn’t an exaggeration: People are literally dying of almost totally trivial things that, if they happened to one of us here in Kington, we could just go to a store a purchase what we need,” Amesse said, explaining that untreated diabetes can lead to wounds, which can end up infected due to a lack of clean water and bathing supplies.
“The diabetes program where we are going can take three years to get into,” Stolk continued.
“Here in Kingston, it might be six months.”
The Indigenous Medical Alliance will be working with a health care team on this trip, bringing with them a handful or registered nurses, orthotists, and prosthetists to help explain how to use equipment, and do custom fitting when necessary. But first, Amesse and Stolk will spend a week in the area meeting with chiefs, band councils, health care directors and nurses to find out what is most needed – and to ensure their intentions are understood and welcome.
“We want to make it very clear that we’re more of a tool to be used by these communities, and by the healthcare communities in these areas, rather than some invading force that’s going to be another bunch of white people getting in their way to say they saved the day,” Amesse said plainly.
“And we want to make sure that we aren’t giving them any more broken promises, because for the past 150 years, that’s all that has really happened: a lot of broken promises,” Stolk continued.
And the Indigenous Medical Alliance is turning to the Kingston community to help. On Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, the Alliance will hold Medical Aid Donation Day, when they will accept donations of both new and used medical supplies. They need everything from simple gauze to patient transfer equipment, but provided a list of some of the biggest necessities:
- Mobility equipment: canes, walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, braces, walking casts, etc.
- Wound treating supplies: gauze, bandages, antiseptics, etc.
- Incontinence supplies: adult diapers, under pads, etc.
- Diabetes treatment supplies: test strips, blood sugar monitors, etc.
The Indigenous Medical Alliance will also happily accept monetary donations, too, especially since this year they have to pay for all of their travel and shipping (last year, they were able to use the plane that travels from James Bay to Kingston and back three times weekly to transport items).
Both Stolk and Amesse expressed their gratitude for the local support they’ve already received, especially from Capital Movers, who are allowing them to use their shipping containers (and staff to fill them) free of charge, V2 Innovations, who provide storage space for the Alliance, and the local Rotary Clubs and Odd Fellows Clubs, who continue to help with collecting items and donations.
“I feel like what we’re doing is a drop in the bucket, but I think it’s a start to going in the right direction, and telling these people that there are people that care about them and that they are not forgotten,” said Stolk.
The Indigenous Medical Alliance’s Medical Aid Collection Day takes place on Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Canadian Tire at 59 Bath Road, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.indigenousmedicalalliance.ca or www.truenorthaid.ca/donate to find out more or to donate online. You can find the Indigenous Medical Alliance on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IndigenousMedicalAlliance/.