Whapmagoostui clinic incident to be learning lesson, says Cree health board chair


A recent complaint from a northern Quebec family who say police were called on them while at a local medical clinic, will be a learning lesson for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, says the board’s chair.

Bertie Wapachee, the chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. He said the Tuesday incident at clinic in northern Quebec will be a lesson to learn from. (Christopher Herodier/CBC)

A recent complaint from a northern Quebec family who say police were called on them while at a local medical clinic, will be a learning lesson for the board, says the chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

“We intend to take it like that and learn as much as we can,” Bertie Wapachee told CBC’s Marjorie Kitty Friday morning on Eyou Dipajimoon. “It’s always a constant reminder that we don’t have a perfect service.”

He said the incident hit him “a lot.”

“I really feel for the family and the parents,” he said.

The family, mother Jade Mukash, her partner and baby Slash, live in the fly-in Cree community of Whapmagoostui, Que., about 1,200 kilometres north of Montreal.

Eleven-month-old Slash has eczema and was showing signs of an infection that he’d received antibiotics for before. Early Tuesday morning, after he’d been lethargic for two days, the family noticed Slash’s feet and lips were blue, Mukash told CBC News.

Slash Mukash-Saganash at his traditional walking out ceremony in August. Slash’s parents say they received inadequate care and faced discrimination at the Cree health board clinic in Whapmagoostui, Que. (Submitted by Jade Mukash)

She called the local clinic, where the nurse on duty initially refused to see the boy, but eventually agreed the family could bring Slash in, but tensions escalated, Mukash said. At one point during the phone call, the nurse said she felt “unsafe” and threatened to call police.

When the family arrived at the clinic, Mukash insisted during the consultation with the nurse that her son see a doctor who could prescribe antibiotics that had worked in the past. She said nobody in her family at any point threatened or yelled at any of the clinic staff.

The nurse mentioned police again when the family was at the clinic, this time saying the doctor advised staff to call them, Mukash said. Police from two different jurisdictions arrived, just as the family was leaving. 

There were no charges laid against the family as of Friday, said Jade Mukash’s stepfather, Matt Iserhoff. 

CBC News heard from a spokesperson for Whapmagoostui’s Eeyou Eenou Police Force on Thursday who confirmed police were called to the clinic that night. The spokesperson said they’d be issuing a statement but couldn’t say when. CBC News has not heard back from Kuujjuarapik’s Nunavik Police Service.

Officers from both the regional Whapmagoostui’s Eeyou Eenou Police Force and Kuujjuarapik’s Nunavik Police Service were called into the clinic early Tuesday morning while the family was seeking care for the baby. (Submitted by Natasia Mukash)

Ongoing investigation

Wapachee said he doesn’t blame the family for the reaction they had to the incident and that one of the main reasons why he wanted to work for the health board is to help protect children.

“I’m very caring to children, infants,” he said adding he has children and grandchildren of his own.

“I know what it feels like to have a child in your care … I don’t blame anything, what they said or what they went through, or how they feel.”

However, he said his role is to “walk that middle ground” in situations like this.

Wapachee added it’s important that all incidents are investigated to avoid rumours or hearsay.

In this situation, he said the board knows “enough from both sides” about what happened and that the investigation is ongoing.

“We do know and respect the story that came out,” he said. Wapachee said he wants to reassure the family that the health board “does not have anything against the family.”

“We have to treat everybody equally. And it’s unfortunate the incident happened in that manner,” he said.

He said the complaints commissioner was called to contact the family and anyone else involved in the incident.

“The investigation went underway, as soon as we finished the meeting with the staff that were involved in the incident,” he said. “We look forward to the report.”

Medical charter

Cree Health did send Mukash and Slash to see a pediatrician in the Cree community of Chisasibi, Que., three weeks ago, after Mukash filed a complaint with the board over the challenges they’d experienced with Slash’s health care, but there was still no referral to see a specialist.

Mukash filed another official complaint with the Cree health board about the Tuesday morning interaction, during which police were called, she said.

The Mukash family had been raising money to get themselves to a pediatrician in Montreal when they learned they would finally be allowed onto a medical charter Thursday. They left for Montreal at noon.

Wapachee said the Cree health board is “very grateful” that the child is down South now to get medical care.

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