It is almost 2 weeks since I have taken over from Dr Bocking as the lead of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) COVID Regional Response Team (CRRT). I wanted to share with you some thoughts about how we might approach the challenges faced by those who live in the communities that we serve.
In one way or another, we are all affected by this new and unwelcome threat to our health and well-being. Throughout the region, organizations and communities have been working hard to keep the communities safe. We have seen remarkable strength and dedication. However, we have a long way to go and we must keep working together to overcome this threat. I would like to outline three strategies that may help address some of the challenges we face.
LIVING WITH COVID
It has been 19 weeks since we have been living in the shadow of a global pandemic. We have watched with mounting concern as it has swept across the world causing disease, death and disruption. This is a new virus, but it has relatives with which we are all familiar, such as the common cold. We are learning more about the virus but there is much more to learn. Big questions still remain unanswered.
The virus has made its way into our region. In the past few weeks we have had our first incidence of transmission in one of our communities and a cluster of cases in Meno Ya Win Health Centre. Thankfully, to date, it has not caused any illness and spread seems to have been minimal. It is clear that we are living in a world where the presence of COVID is the new normal as it is not likely to go away in the near term. We will have to live with it as we do with many other viruses, but we can minimize the harm that it can do to us and our loved ones.
We can do this by focusing on what we can do and what we must do to keep our families and communities safe while we get back to doing the things that make our communities work. The recommended public health measures that you have heard repeated so often are as useful as they have ever been. We must remain vigilant. In addition, we know that face covering can help in situations where physical distancing is not possible or is difficult.
This is a new journey, we will have to continue to walk it together safely. Public health advice will guide us and public health measures will help us. It is through our collective resilience that we will continue to change and continue to adapt as we go forward, as circumstances change and as we learn more. The CRRT will continue to work to make sure that the well-being of the communities is at the center of our thinking, advice and efforts.
BE PREPARED – BE STRATEGIC
The CRRT has been engaging with communities to support them in their preparedness and to develop their own Incident Management Systems (IMS). Although the CRRT is providing tools, resources and training in emergency management, the systems at the community level are based on the unique structures of each community and are designed by the community. In many cases, communities are using their existing structures and ways of making decisions. These structures are based on traditions of supporting each other and in responding to various crises over the years. These emergency structures have worked extremely well in several communities and have been essential in achieving satisfactory outcomes.
Despite the ongoing efforts, the level of preparation in communities is not uniform. We will continue to support communities as they draw on their strengths to increase their emergency preparedness. We have recently formed a task group to help communities improve emergency preparedness and develop a coordinated incident management structure that has common elements and the capacity to deal with emergencies in a way that respects the unique needs and wishes of each community.
Each one of us can be prepared. Learn about the virus and its symptoms. If you have any symptoms or concerns that you have been exposed, self-isolate and call the nursing station so that you can be assessed. Your local COVID response team, increasingly, is a resource you can call on for help and information. For those who use the internet, the SLFNHA website slfnha.com is a reliable source of information with tools, resources and updates.
SAFE PATHWAYS TO AND FROM CARE
While we have been focused on preventing the spread of COVID, other threats to our health have not been silent. Our communities carry an unfair burden of illness from many causes. There were significant challenges in getting adequate care for community members prior to the pandemic. Now, the number of community members who have unmet urgent health needs continues to grow.
Travel restrictions have meant that access to care has, in too many cases, been reduced or reserved for emergencies. Yet the needs for care have not changed. In fact, there are real concerns that the current stress caused by the pandemic has not been good for our collective mental health and has forced us to have less care for other equally important conditions.
Throughout this pandemic, SLFNHA has been working with its partners and with each community to safely bring essential services into the communities while also respecting the direction and individual strategies of each community. As we enter into a new normal and increase access to services we are developing safe pathways to and from care. This will allow community members meet their individual needs while continuing to ensure that the firewalls that protect communities are maintained.
This is not going to be an easy task as the leadership of communities balance the risk of COVID against the risk of not getting needed care. This will be a dynamic process that will change as the risk of COVID in our health care hubs waxes and wanes. The CRRT will be working with the many elements that make up the pathway. One of the more challenging pieces will be to have adequate capacity for isolation in and outside the communities. This is currently being addressed as a high priority.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that exists throughout the region. Our greatest asset during these times is the strength, wisdom and traditions that come from communities as they work to protect the health and safety of their people. The CRRT continues to work alongside communities as we learn from the past and walk together through this new journey.
Dr. John Guilfoyle, MB BCh BAO FCFP
Public Health Physician