Dr. Sean Wachtel is taking over for out-going Dr. Michael Patterson as chief public health officer of Nunavut. Wachtel said he wants to continue tackling systemic racism in health care and is impressed by the hard work and efforts of the territory’s health staff. (Photo courtesy of First Nations Health Authority)

New chief public health officer wants to tackle systemic racism in health care

Dr. Sean Wachtel says despite operational challenges, he’s impressed by hard work of health staff in Nunavut

By David Lochead

Now that he is the chief public health officer of Nunavut, Dr. Sean Wachtel said he will continue working to address systemic racism in health care.

“As a patient, we need to be able to approach our provider and be heard,” he said in an interview.

To do that, Wachtel wants treatment plans for health care in the territory to be culturally appropriate.

While initiatives that have started in areas like Nunavut — such as programs for retraining medical staff — are new, they are the type he wants to see implemented “to help providers give better care to Indigenous populations all over the country and particularly in Nunavut.”

Wachtel replaced Dr. Michael Patterson as the territory’s chief public health officer last month.

After holding clinics in Iqaluit and the Kivalliq in 2019 and coming up periodically again since April this year, Wachtel said he was drawn to the spirit of the people in Nunavut, as well as the physical beauty of the place.

“So I was delighted to be afforded the opportunity to join the team,” he said.

Before replacing Patterson, Wachtel was senior medical director for Aboriginal Health and medical health officer for the First Nations Health Authority in B.C.

He did his schooling at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom and was a physician with the British Royal Air Force from 2004 until 2009, when he immigrated to Canada.

Once here, Wachtel said, he felt drawn to working with Indigenous people after learning about the country’s history of colonization and its impact on health care.

“Generally, I think people have an innate sense of what is just and would like to correct [what is unjust],” he said, mentioning the anti-racism movement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“I felt so much drawn to that area of work.”

As part of that, Wachtel has specialized in public health since moving to Canada.

He said systemic racism in Canada’s delivery of health care is by design. By having a system that was created for and by the people who colonized the country, it does not recognize the needs of Indigenous people.

For Nunavut specifically, that means addressing several challenges, including the delivery of health care to a vastly spread-out population.

“That’s the meat and potatoes of the problem,” Wachtel said.

Another thing that drew him to Nunavut was the way the territory’s health-care workers operate in spite of the challenges.

“The dedication and commitment of the staff in Nunavut is second to none, and I find it very inspiring to work with such hardworking people,” he said.

Wachtel said in the short-term, his goals are to use his public health expertise to provide advice to the territorial government on health-care decisions.

In the medium or long-term, he will go onto federal and territorial tables and advocate to get the resources needed for Nunavut’s population.

That kind of work is usually done by reviewing scientific evidence, then taking that information and making an argument using the context of recommendations from the truth and reconciliation report, he said.

While there are challenges ahead in improving Nunavut’s health care, Wachtel said he is honoured and privileged to take up his new position.

“I hope that people find me approachable and respectful of their points of view, and that’s my [way of operating] that I will carry forward,” he said.

 

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(42) Comments:

  1. Posted by More Foreigners on

    Couldn’t we at least get a Canadian?

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    • Posted by Boringest on

      Lame, distracting observation. Why did you bother?

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    • Posted by Alan Klie on

      Are Canadian bodies somehow different from the bodies of every other human being out there?

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    • Posted by really on

      couldnt we at least get one article someone isnt finding something to complain about? he seems very interested in helping the INUIT of Nunavut, if a person is qualified for the job, is very keen on helping, does it really matter where he/she is from?

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      • Posted by oh ima on

        what you call complaining is what we have to deal with as Indigenous (Inuit) people. For once try seeing from a perspective of an indigenous person. Try spending a day with an Inuk family and go out on the land. See what we have to face every day.

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    • Posted by John K on

      Lol, shut up.

      He’s an ex Royal Air Force doctor. What are you besides Canadian?

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  2. Posted by Same old axe, same old grind on

    So that’s a nice windy piece of the usual rhetoric. Can he give us some concrete examples of what “de-colonized” healthcare looks like?

    In my experience, Nunavut folks care more about competent and timely health care, just like folks everywhere else in Canada.

    I guess pandering to activist rhetoric is easier, and nice to have a “colonial” scapegoat when you can’t actually deliver on timely and competent, and have no real intention to try. Who needs to, when you can get full points for pandering to racist narratives that the health care workers doing their best to deliver scientifically up-to-date interventions are “colonial”.

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    • Posted by Doctor Money on

      It’s simple.
      .
      He got the job by promising to work at getting more money from Ottawa.
      .
      Everyone knows that the answer to every problem in Nunavut is “more money from Ottawa”.
      .
      Good luck.

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    • Posted by S on

      Thanks, Saosog; it’s difficult to give the article any response other than the Valley-Girl “gag me with a spoon”

      I suppose, if we pretend that the new doc has good medical intentions and has no political or religious agenda, then we could at least take what he says with a grain of salt. On the other hand it is difficult not to gag from that large measure of rhetoric in his salad

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  3. Posted by iWonder on

    “Systemic racism in Canada’s delivery of health care is by design.”

    Let’s contextualize this. When I walk into a health center in Nunavut, are you telling me the service delivered is of an intentional, structural design meant to discriminate against Inuit based on race?

    I don’t find this believable, Doctor. In fact, I find it worse than not believable, I find it corrosive, simplistic and misinformative.

    What am I missing?

    When you point to solutions, however, you do an impressive code switch. These will be based on a review of “scientific evidence.”

    I wonder, do you have ‘scientific evidence’ that racism in the health care system “is by design”?

    I strongly suspect you do not.

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    • Posted by Hiqaluit on

      Just look to this guys past and you find all the answers.

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  4. Posted by RS on

    If an Inuk has to go south for medical treatment and is not hospitalized, the Inuk is provided with a place to stay, meals, etc. If a non-Inuk has to go south for medical treatment and is not hospitalized, the non-Inuk is on his or her own.
    And a non-Inuk better have a health insurance policy if a medivac is required. Or if dental care is needed.
    Elimination of racial discrimination in health care would be a very good thing.

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    • Posted by Smells Fishy on

      Why don’t I believe this is entirely accurate?

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      • Posted by Probably Because… on

        You are ignorant of the reality of the race-based nature of health provisions in Nunavut. The poster is correct.

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        • Posted by More Accurately on

          Anyone who is signed up with the Nunavut Health Care Plan is eligible to have their medevac expenses covered. Anyone, regardless of race.

          If you are not part of the plan you are probably not a resident of Nunavut, in which case you are probably working here temporarily. If so your employer needs to make sure you have extended health care to cover the possibility you may need a medevac flight.

          If you are only visiting Nunavut, you should check with the provider of insurance in your home province or territory as they will be responsible for covering your Health benefits while you are away from home, whatever those may be. If they chose not to cover your flight, you can blame them or call them racists or whatever fits the sad story you want to tell.

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          • Posted by Reality on

            No, the care is not equal for all residents of Nunavut regardless of race. Much more is covered for Inuit people. It’s just a fact.

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    • Posted by oh ima on

      you as a settler not covered by land claims and recognized by the government. So you have a lot more opportunities and second guesses how the system treats you. Your attitude is of settler’s privilege I am being nice.

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      • Posted by There goes Johnny on

        Hey Johnny, your comments are as wrong on this as they are full of the typical venom.

        I as a non-beneficiary am eligible for medivac coverage because I am enrolled in the Nunavut Health Care program. That’s what matters here, not your ethnic ‘status’. Your comments are so routinely predictable, small and uninformative.

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        • Posted by oh ima on

          Ok Ikulik

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        • Posted by oh ima on

          what a non beneficiary need to do to get treated right eh? As the Americans like to say Love it or Leave it. You can go back to your failed province for work you’ll never get down south in your own province.

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          • Posted by There goes Johnny on

            Hey Johnny, you live in Manitoba right? Is that a ‘failed’ province in your opinion?

            Something to remember, it’s my province and others like it that fund over 90% of Nunavut’s annual budget. A simple thank you would be nice.

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            • Posted by oh ima on

              be grateful to the leaders that created Nunavut, you would be working in McDonald’s in your province. Also using my name trying to embarrassed me, won’t work little boy

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            • Posted by oh ima on

              you would have a job at McDonald’s or Tim’s as in your province if Nunavut wasn’t created. So you a big thank you to people like John’s Amaroalik, and Tagak Curley to name a few.

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              • Posted by One Trick Pony on

                I strongly suspect you wouldn’t last a week working at a McDonalds. Your comments are so disgraceful, but they are definitely you, Johnny.

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  5. Posted by education worker on

    Focus on getting and maintaining staff. Can’t train staff if there is no staff to train!

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    • Posted by Scrubs on

      It’s real hard to maintain staff with abusive SHPs and every single complaint being described as racism, no matter how trivial.

      Regional management also maintains an extensive blacklist of nurses, primarily who defied a SHP or refused an extention.

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  6. Posted by been here too long on

    What a bunch of nonsense. I gotta get out of this territory….

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    • Posted by Lily on

      Good riddance!

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  7. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    Preconceived notions about the Nunavut.
    If you already believe systemic racism exists, than that is all you will see.
    Remember, systemic racism works both ways.
    Although I enjoyed my time in Nunavut, met a lot of fantastic people and made a lot of friends, I am glad I am not there any longer.
    Always found that the problems in Nunavut were mainly from southern do gooders who thought they knew better.

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    • Posted by Do Gooders. on

      This person is saying stuff staying the same is better than someone trying to make it better. :rolling_eyes: “Inuit are only allowed better if Inuit make it better.” That’s the kind of backwards racist thinking that will keep this place firmly in the stone age. #TeamPeople.

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      • Posted by Forever Amazed on

        Your type of thinking is what gave the world residential schools.

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    • Posted by Oh ima on

      Systematic racism deals with people in control institutions that affect peoples. Majority of people In charge are settlers working for the government and public institutions!

  8. Posted by Race Based Benefkr on

    Federal policies like Non Insured Health Benefits and Jordan’s Principle mean Inuit pay $0 for almost anything. Prescriptions. Dental. Massage. Protein shakes if medically recommended. If you are not indigenous you pay direct or have some subsidy for things through employer health plans, which if you work for anyone but the Fed is not a whole lot.
    .
    Others have already commented that Inuit are covered by the Feds for most of their medical travel with the GN eating a small portion because they continue to administer this federal program at a deficit for some reason. If you are not indigenous and don’t work and have work coverage or are not a resident of Nunavut you are discriminated against because the Feds will not cover you.
    .
    I am all for people being covered who are I need or low income, but when Deputy Ministers pulling near $300k get a free ride on the taxpayers it is insane and time to revisit the policy that discriminate against non indigenous peoples. This should be based on need, not race.

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  9. Posted by Iqalummiut on

    Doctors need to learn Inuktitut.
    Nurses need to learn Inuktitut.
    Healthcare providers need to learn Inuktitut. Learn our language, learn our medical terminology, learn about our traditional methods of self care.

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    • Posted by Skin FLute on

      “learn about our traditional methods of self care.”

      You mean, like when Shamans would go into the underworld and bargain and wrestle with the evil or offended spirits in order to heal the sick? Where does a person learn that kind of skill?

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      • Posted by Iqalummiut on

        Self care is all aspects from childhood to elders. Good mental health. Good sexual health. Good cardiovascular health. Good nutritional health.
        Why did you need to bring up shamans?

        • Posted by Maybe this? on

          Aren’t you are emphasizing traditional ways of doing medicine? Wasn’t that the primary method?

          • Posted by Iqalummiut on

            Do you think shamans were the primary method of self care promotion?

            • Posted by SKin Flute on

              I’m not sure what the phrase ‘self care promotion’ even means.

              This is a discussion about the delivery of health care though. And you seem to want to promote traditional ways of doing medicine, am I mistaken? We both know Shamans are the ones who dealt with serious illness in traditional society. So, why would you want to ignore the role they played in traditional medicine?

    • Posted by Hiqaluit on

      I understand your point of view but I believe you should look at it a little differently. How about the people of Nunauvt put the time and effort in and become Doctors, Nurses and Healthcare workers themselves, that way we do not have to depend on people from the south to learn your ways. Until this happens we really should not complain when we can not do for ourselves. Complaining only makes it difficult to keep the best of the Southern people. And I am not saying some Southerns are not suited for the north and the lifestyle but we should be welcoming for the help until we can do for ourselves. The best of the Southerns could always just leave or not come at all, and that would put us in a worse position. Just ask the communities that had their Health Centers closed over the summer because of no staff.

      • Posted by Delusional on

        Nunavut will never produce enough doctors and nurses to fill its own needs, it’s population is simply too small. It will always be dependent on outsiders to serve it.

        It’s amazing how someone could believe they have the leverage to make ridiculous demands like this, but it goes to show the disconnect between fantasy and reality that marks life in Nunavut.

    • Posted by John WP Murphy on

      Or Inuit go to school a d become doctors and nurses

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