Iqaluit forced to medevac patients out of territory as water crisis hits hospital
TORONTO -- Iqaluit is being forced to medevac patients out of the territory as its only hospital suffers the effects of the water contamination crisis.
Iqaluit’s state of emergency has been extended until October 27 by the Department of Health, after testing showed a high concentration of fuel in a tank that supplies water to the city last week.
As a result, hospital workers are unable to properly wash hands or sterilize equipment.
Residents are being advised not to consume tap water for drinking or cooking until further notice – even boiled or filtered tap water is not considered safe for ingestion. Laundry, cleaning and showers are safe if the water isn’t swallowed, city said.
Deputy-mayor of Iqaluit Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster spoke on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday about the crisis, revealing her own mother had to be medevaced out of the territory for a diagnostic procedure normally available in Iqaluit.
“She’s in Ottawa and she is still in the emergency department, and she’s alone there,” Brewster said. “It’s been difficult.”
Brewster said that while it is a regular occurrence for people in Nunavut to have to seek medical care outside of the territory, the water crisis and COVID-19 have exacerbated the problem, outlining in a thread on Twitter that each medevac can cost upwards of $40,000.
“So there’s my worry about my mom and my family and then there’s my worry about the impact of the cost on the territories – it’s massive,” she told CTV’s Your Morning.
In her Twitter thread, Brewster says in 2019 the Health Department in Iqaluit forecast 2,400 medevacs for 2020 -- compared to the approximately 33,000 planned medical travel trips forecast for this year.
And while Brewster is currently on leave from her position as Director of Travel Programs for the Department of Health, she outlined what she thinks is happening in Iqaluit’s hospital as the water crisis continues.
“The health care team is likely having to triage patients and make decisions on which patients should fly out for medical care because we are the first point of medical care outside the communities in the eastern Arctic,” she said. “I would imagine patients are being diverted or their procedures delayed. We’ve experienced significant delays due to COVID-19 and Yellowknife is in an outbreak – our entire territory is impacted.”
Brewster said COVID-19 is impacting other health issues – outlining in her Twitter thread that the waitlist for children needing dental surgery, which is dependant on Iqaluit’s hospital as the only place where general anesthesia can be given, was at approximately 500 before COVID-19 hit, but has now double to 1,000.
With the state of emergency extended, Brewster said it feels like the crisis is unending.
“The city was hoping to have flushed the pipes by now but for some reason there are delays and there really doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” she said.
“We’ve known for years that we are in a water crisis and that we need a new source of water, although the contamination is not in our water source, it’s in our system… what we know with climate change our system has slowly been breaking down over a number of years,” Brewster said. “We need $130 million in order to fix the entire system and to find a new and larger source of water that’s nearby.”
Despite the twin crises of COVID-19 and water contamination, Brewster says the community in Iqaluit has rallied.
“We have one young woman who has raised funds and paid $11,000 in shipping fees in order to bring up pre-mixed infant formula for babies,” she said. “There is a massive cost to moving all of the emergency water and supplies that we need, and the community is volunteering to distribute, the city is obviously doing a great job distributing water and the supplies as well.”