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Hamlet wants doctor for High Arctic

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 18, 2012

It's been four years since long-time community physician Dr. Patty DeMaio left Pond Inlet for Iqaluit, and Pond Inlet's hamlet council says it's time for the government to find a replacement.

"Our local nurses do a great job in handling our community medical needs," Mayor Jaykolasie Killiktee stated in a May 25 letter to Tununiq MLA Joe Enook, "but it has been observed that since our past doctor Patty DeMaio left, there have not been any improvements to the level of medical care offered by the health centre from a person in a doctor's position."

Council voted May 17 to ask Enook to look into the situation. He had already broached the subject in the legislature March 5, and asked Health Minister Keith Peterson for a status update May 30.

"I don't have an update for Mr. Enook and I can indicate to him right now that it is very difficult to recruit physicians for Nunavut," Peterson said. "At this time, we don't have any plans to recruit for Pond Inlet."

When former MLA James Arvaluk expressed concern about the lack of a replacement in 2010, director of medical services Dr. Sandy MacDonald said the Department of Health and Social Services was working on finding a full-time doctor for Pond Inlet as well as Pangnirtung, Iglulik, Baker Lake and Cape Dorset.

"If you've had a house before, just boarding is not satisfactory to you anymore," said deputy mayor Joshua Arreak. "We had a doctor in town before, and we need one here. It's important to the health and welfare of the community."

DeMaio was Pond Inlet's first community physician, and for the first few years travelled regularly to Arctic Bay, Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay. After 2002, she limited her travel to monthly visits to Clyde River. She moved to Iqaluit in 2008.

"She was the best thing since sliced bread," senior administrative officer Colin Saunders said. "Always positive, always smiling, always nice to every person who walked into the health centre."

Once someone like DeMaio leaves, "as soon as they're missing, you notice it, you feel it," he said.

This month, Peterson insisted Nunavummiut are getting good care, even without community doctors.

"They do visit the communities," he said. "The doctors here in Iqaluit are in regular, daily contact with nurses in the communities in the High Arctic. Nurses can call them if there are situations they can't deal with on their own and need advice whether to medevac a patient to Iqaluit or Ottawa," Peterson said.

He added that Nunavut's physician recruitment team is working very hard.

"We phone up physicians all the time," he said, noting a website and trade shows are among the recruitment tools.

The government is also working with Memorial University in Newfoundland to bring medical students to Qikiqtani General Hospital.

"Hopefully, in a little over a couple of years, as each of those physicians work, they may decide that they want to work in Nunavut in the smaller communities because the program in Newfoundland is based more on small family community doctors in their rural communities," Peterson said.

Pond Inlet believes the hamlet and its neighbours have waited long enough.

"I am confident that there are doctors out there who would love the challenge and adventure of working in Canada's High Arctic," Enook said.

Saunders also questioned the fiscal wisdom of investing in medical travel instead of a community doctor.

"It gives people the opportunity to stay home and get care versus travelling to Iqaluit constantly, which is tiresome," he said, noting he, personally, has given up on travelling for medical treatment of a degenerative eye condition. "If the GN could crunch the numbers and see what is more efficient, having a doctor here versus the airline costs and time at the boarding home and stress on the patients from leaving home, they might be able to come up to a better decision on what they should do."

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