When Etoah Lamalice fell off a snowmobile, she had to wait three weeks until she got an X-ray to learn her arm was broken.
“She was really in pain; her little arm was starting to get blue,” said Etoah’s mother, Valerie.
She thought at first her daughter’s injury was just a sprain, but “every time we got near it or tried to touch it, she was really in pain.”
Etoah, 7, is from Sambaa K’e, N.W.T.
The nearest X-ray machine is Fort Simpson, but Valerie said that because of staffing shortages there, they were sent to Stanton Hospital in Yellowknife instead.
Valerie said that when she first took her daughter to the Sambaa K’e health centre, the nurse told them they couldn’t fly into Fort Simpson because of bad weather.
When she followed up a few days later, she was told it would be another week until Etoah could get an X-ray. When Valerie followed a third time the next week, the nurse told her it would be another week still, and that due to a lack of staff, they would have to fly to Yellowknife instead.
“So I don’t know where that miscommunication came from,” Valerie said, adding they were lucky the injury was a clean break and that doctors didn’t have to re-break her daughter’s arm to set the bone properly.
‘I’m really questioning the health system up here’
When Etoah and Valerie arrived in Yellowknife to confirm the break, staff told her they didn’t know why the health centre in Fort Simpson couldn’t complete the X-ray.
“I’m really questioning the health system up here,” she said. “They’re not really taking our emergencies seriously.”
“In an isolated community, it’s kind of scary when you’re in a situation like this.”
Valerie said that Etoah is “a tough cookie,” and that she continues to be “all over the place like she doesn’t even have a cast on.”
They’re really not taking our emergencies seriously.– Valerie Lamalice, mother of 7-year-old Etoah, in Sambaa K’e, N.W.T.
Valerie has lived in Sambaa K’e for 46 years.
She said that while the medical travel system has always had its flaws, she “noticed just recently” that advocating for medical care has been more challenging than ever.
The mother and daughter are scheduled to return to Yellowknife in another three weeks to remove Etoah’s cast.
The doctor told Valerie that someone would call her to confirm the appointment and medical travel arrangements but provided phone numbers and told Valerie to call herself if she doesn’t hear anything by the week before the appointment.
“I just want to see it get better for people in isolated communities,” she said. “I’m really confused about that miscommunication … how do we do this better?”
Situation ‘could easily shift’
Kim Riles, the chief executive officer of the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority, told reporters at a news conference Wednesday, that health-care staffing shortages exist across the territory.
On top of the shortages causing the closure of Stanton Hospital’s obstetrics unit, six community health centres in the Northwest Territories are operating at reduced services, and four on emergency services.
Riles said despite the department’s recruitment efforts, 22 per cent of the nursing positions at Stanton remain vacant.
While she said there is no immediate threat of other hospital units closing, she said the situation is fragile and could “easily shift with just a couple of staff departures or a couple of [locum] contract cancellations.”
A document shared with CBC News shows a callout to nurses for December shifts in the emergency department. The document, which CBC News was told was sent on Nov. 19, shows 172 unfilled shifts for the month of December.
David Maguire, spokesperson for the health authority, said the document is outdated “and not reflective of the current state of staffing.”
He said it also does not account for overtime shift pickup, locum, casual or relief staff.
Health Minister Julie Green said that 46 vacant nursing shifts led to the temporary obstetrics closure.
The health authority did not respond to questions of why Etoah’s X-ray travel took three weeks.