You want health care? Go south, mother is told

Inuit parents may never hear the truth: their children can’t get the right health care in Nunavut.


MONTREAL — Families with severely damaged children need to leave Nunavut to get the health care they need.

That’s what Nunavut health professionals have been telling Jodi Jaffray of Kimmirut

For 10 years she has been struggling with the health-care system to get help for her troubled son, who’s suffering from serious physical- and mental- health problems.

Jaffray fears Inuit parents in similar straits never hear the truth: that even doctors believe children can’t get proper health care in Nunavut.

“They say, ‘You have to move South,’” Jaffray said. “We’ve been here for 13 years, seven of them in Kimmirut. I’m sure if we had been born and raised here, they wouldn’t be saying that to me.”

Nunavut’s children, the territory’s most vulnerable residents, may be getting the worst treatment of all in a health-care system that already ranks among the worst in Canada.

Jaffray doesn’t think that’s fair, especially when all Canadians are entitled to an equal level of health care no matter where they live.

Ever since Jaffray’s son became prone to ear infections as an infant, health-care professionals have told her the only way to get help is for her family to leave Nunavut.

Because of his hearing problems, the boy couldn’t learn Inuktitut easily, despite being immersed in the language.

In 1999, Jaffray and her husband paid to have an Ottawa specialist assess him. The specialist found he suffered from hearing and learning problems.

“There are others who don’t have the means to push as hard. He’s not an isolated case,” Jaffray said.

“They say, ‘You have to move South.’ We’ve been here for 13 years, seven of them in Kimmirut. I’m sure if we had been born and raised here, they wouldn’t be saying that to me.”

— Jodi Jaffray, parent

In June of 2000, the school in Kimmirut wrote to the local health centre, asking them to provide more help for his many problems.

Nothing happened.

By February of 2001, the boy’s difficulties had deteriorated into a crisis.

Jaffray says her son “shut down,” with crying spells and tantrums. He was hitting himself and he refused to go to school.

A visiting doctor then told Jaffray that her son needed to be seen by a child psychiatrist.

After two months, nothing happened.

As Jaffray waited, she wrote a lengthy letter to Nunavut’s health minister, Ed Picco, dated April 8.

“My son has been in crisis for two months,” she told Picco.

“This is a young child who is struggling to survive. He is losing precious time in education because no one has identified or treated the disorder which causes him not to function in school. He is at risk for failure and dropping out of school in the future. Worse yet, he is at risk for committing suicide.”

“My husband and I have been told by several doctors that the Nunavut government is not willing to pay to have these children assessed because there are no follow-up services available in Nunavut at this time,” she wrote.

Although three months have passed since her son’s crisis, Jaffray’s son still hasn’t recieved a full assessment from a child psychiatrist.

She brought him to Iqaluit recently for a series of medical appointments, one of which was with a visiting psychiatrist, but no conclusive course of treatment resulted from the consultation.

Jaffray says she’s still waiting for a referral to see a children’s mental health specialist.

Meanwhile, she’s giving her son medication prescribed by a child psychiatrist who has never seen the boy in person.

The crisis passed, and he’s back in school — for now.

But Jaffray wonders what happens to children whose parents aren’t as persistent as she, or parents who can’t fight for their children in English.

In her opinion, Nunavut leaders should start putting their money where their mouth is.

“If children are the priority, they should start putting more money into them,” she said.

Jaffray would like to see Nunavut children gain better access to early-childhood intervention programs.

She says there should be more visits by occupational and speech therapists and more support in schools for children affected by fetal alcohol syndrome and attention- deficit disorder. Children suffering from mental disorders should be seen by a specialized child psychiatrist, too, she says.

The Nunavut government should strike an agreement with the Chidren’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa to supply mental health services to children. Right now, their sole agreement for psychiatric services is with the Clarke Institute in Toronto, and that’s for adults.

Jaffray told health minister Picco all this in her letter back in April. But she says Picco still hasn’t answered her yet, apart from an official acknowledgement that her correspondence had been received.

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