Federal flight rules blocked aid to Nunavik burn victim: Aatami

Sarah Ningiuruvik dies after waiting nine hours to receive medical attention following accidental explosion


PUVIRNITUQ — Nunavik leaders are demanding changes to federal aviation rules that prevented pilots from coming to the aid of an elderly woman in need of emergency medical attention.

79-year-old Sarah Ningiuruvik died last Thursday morning in Quebec City from burns she received in an accidental explosion two days earlier.

Ningiuruvik had waited nine hours at an isolated camp before Canadian Rangers were able to transport her to a nursing station in Kangiqsujuaq. Then, because no aircraft were readily available for a medical evacuation from Kangiqsujuaq, the woman did not arrive at a fully-equipped burn unit in the South until Wednesday afternoon.

“Airplanes are our ambulances,” Makivik Corporation president Pita Aatami told the federal Standing Committee of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs in Ottawa this week.

Standing committee

Aatami, Jean Dupuis from the regional health board and Maggie Emudluk from the Kativik Regional Government, appeared before the standing committee after Nunavik’s Member of Parliament Guy Julien managed to introduce the Ningiuruvik case as an emergency item for discussion.

Inuit leaders and airline executives would like to see a “good Samaritan” clause added to federal duty-time regulations for pilots.

According to the federal Civil Air Services Navigation Commercialization Act, pilots may only fly eight hours in a 14-hour shift. A pilot who breaks the law is liable for a large fine and other penalties.

Ningiuruvik couldn’t be immediately be airlifted for treatment because pilots at every northern airline said they’d already flown their allotted hours for the day.

Aatami also described the urgent need for change to federal Transport Minister David Collenette’s office.

“We can’t wait forever,” Aatami said. “There’s a disaster waiting in the wings. How many more lives have to be lost before anything is done?”

Aatami pointed out that people in the South are outraged when an ambulance arrives on the scene after a delay of only a few minutes.

Nunavik’s MP Guy St-Julien, chairman of the standing committee planned to introduce a motion in the House of Commons on the need to provide emergency medical services by air in areas not served by roads.

Last week St-Julien also tabled a motion that called for emergency medical services to be available to the population of Nunavik 24 hours a day.

Death saddens community

The news Ningiuruvik’s death affected nearly everyone in Kangiqsujuaq, population 400.

“She was very close to me,” said mayor Charlie Arngak. “She’s my aunt and she was like a mother to us. It’s very sad.”

Arngak said he wants an official response to Ningiuruvik’s death and didn’t rule out a call for a coroner’s inquest.

During their meeting last week in Puvirnituq, Kativik Regional Government (KRG) councilors unanimously passed a resolution calling for a review of the mandate of the Nunavik Regional Board for Health and Social Services.

The KRG resolution said that the health board was created in 1995 to deliver more appropriate services to Nunavimmiut.

“But we feel that health and related services are not adapted as they should be to the lifestyles and subsistence activities,” one regional councillor said.

Up to 40 per cent of Nunavik’s population spend time out on the land to hunt and fish during the spring and summer months. Many of them are elders who, similar to Ningiuruvik, would be deprived of health services in an emergency situation.

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