Norway House Cree Nation apologizes to nurse and doctors in decade-old infant death case

The Norway House Cree Nation held an "historic event" Sept. 22, Chief Marcel Balfour said, to apologize to a nurse wrongly forced out of Norway House 10 years ago by a previous band council after an infant death.

"In 1999, in response to an infant fatality at the Norway House Indian Hospital, the then chief and council forced the removal of a nurse who worked at the hospital," Balfour said.

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"After a clear indication of no fault by the nurse in a post-mortem examination, five physicians supported the nurse and soon left the community."

On Tuesday, Jim Wolfe, Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) regional director, was in Norway House, and as the employer of the nurse, received the apology. Sandra Gibbs accepted the apology from the local Norway House Indian Hospital. Dr. Hanka Hulsbosh accepted the apology as one of the doctors who did not renew their contracts after the incident.

Dr Bruce Martin, director of the University of Manitoba's J.A. Hildes Northern Medical Unit accepted the apology as the employer of the physicians. Rose Neufeld accepted the apology from Manitoba Health and Healthy Living.

Balfour said he offered a "sincere apology for the negative effects of the actions of elected representatives from Norway House Cree Nation and expressed his profound regret to representatives of the parties affected by these actions. Gifts were presented to the recipients of the apologies to mark this occasion. The ceremony was concluded with remarks from the guests and followed

by a feast prepared by the community."

The chief said, "Council and I are pleased to have initiated this historic event: it apologizes for the recognized inappropriate actions of a few that has affected a number of people for the last decade - from the nurse and doctors involved to the community for the ongoing impact on the provision of health services here in Norway House."

Balfour said the "apology is the first step in reconciliation and part of a number of strategies intended to create a positive and supportive environment to enable recruitment and retention of physicians, nurses and other vital health professionals. Reconciliation is a journey. We are proud to show today that politics no longer interferes with the provision of health care services in Norway House. The challenge now remains to begin our journey and implement strategies to commit to our ongoing approach to health and get doctors and health professionals in Norway House."

Strategies include the creation of Norway House Health Services, a non-political entity established for oversight of community health programs and hospital services in the future.

Plans also are being developed to provide a proper working environment through a state-of-the art primary care and hospital facility and through acquiring enhanced broadband services.

"We are taking steps to continue towards our goal to provide a welcoming and technologically enabled environment for health professionals so that all residents of Norway House will have access to high quality health services."

The federal Norway House Indian Hospital has a complement of up to five doctors, 15 nurses and three community health workers. Two communities share the name Norway House: Norway House Indian Reserve and the adjacent non-treaty community of Norway House. Norway House is located on the east channel of the Nelson River, approximately 29 kilometres north of Lake Winnipeg, and is comprised of the mainland and Mission Island, Fort Island and West Island.

The responsibility for public health services in the community was transferred to Norway House Cree Nation by FNIHB in 1998. Public health services are provided to all residents of the community, regardless of status, in accordance with a 1964 agreement.

The history of the Norway House Indian Hospital dates back to the First World War. The Department of National Health and Welfare opened a small Hospital near the United Church Mission located in the Rossville area within the community. The building burned down during the winter of 1918-19. When this occurred temporary quarters were used until another facility was built.

In 1925, a two storey nursing station was built in the Rossville area comprised of five inpatient beds. In 1952 the nursing station burnt down before the completion of construction of the current Norway House Indian Hospital.

The hospital is an acute care facility, owned and operated by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Health Canada.

A supporting complex of buildings that includes a large number of residences and accommodation buildings, a clinic building, a trade shop, water and sewage treatment plant, a garage, and several other support buildings surrounds the hospital, which underwent a major renovation and downsizing in 1981. As a result, the bed count was reduced to 16 from 30, plus three bassinets.

The hospital formerly provided health services for a much larger area before the centralization of many healthy services in Winnipeg.

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