Hotel rooms being used as accommodations for people self-isolating due to exposure to COVID-19 or after travelling out of locked-down communities have resulted in First Nations members coming to Thompson for medical appointments being unable to find a place to stay.
Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC), which administers medical travel for its 11 member First Nations, initially raised the alarm about people being stranded with nowhere to stay in Thompson in mid-February, when a patient from Shamattawa couldn’t find a hotel room at a time when nighttime temperatures were dropping below -45 degrees Celsius with the windchill.
A few weeks later, in early March, the problem popped up again with another patient unable to arrange for a hotel room.
“The major issue is patients’ hotel accommodations cannot be made until they actually arrive in Thompson," KTC executive director George Neepin told the Thompson Citizen in an email.
Hotel rooms can’t be booked before arrival unless the patient is willing to pay up front and be reimbursed for eligible costs such as travel, accommodations, meals and in-city transportation. Some First Nations manage accommodations for their members and can use designated funding to pay for their hotel accommodations. For those who do not have the ability to pay up front or whose First Nation does not administer a non-insured health benefits (NHIB) agreement, the Manitoba First Nations Inuit and Health Branch makes arrangements and pays invoices on behalf of the patient.
A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) told the Citizen that this practice is meant to ensure hotel rooms aren’t unnecessarily reserved.
“As the need for medical transportation varies from day to day, accommodations are arranged once the client arrives at their destination for their medical appointment,” the spokesperson said. “This ensures limited hotel space is not depleted on appointments that have been cancelled or rescheduled.”
“ISC is aware that there is a shortage of hotel space for clients requiring stays for their medical appointments in both Thompson and Winnipeg," said the department spokesperson. “We understand the shortage is the result of hotels prioritizing their use for Alternative Isolation Accommodations (AIA) during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Northern Manitoba. During this unprecedented time, ISC continues to monitor the daily vacancy rates at all NIHB accommodations to ensure clients have access to an accommodation."
At an emergency meeting in February, the KTC executive council of chiefs said the federal government should review the situation and that their inaction demonstrates that patients from KTC First Nations are a low priority.
Sayisi Dene First Nation Chief Evan Yassie said in a press release that there is a need for a physical structure as a long-term solution and that leasing existing housing could be done in the interim to ensure there is somewhere for First Nations patients to stay.