A woman in a small Alberta hamlet says she is trying to get equal health care in her community after struggling to get home care following her open-heart surgery.

Almost 100 people live in Smith’s Landing First Nation and Fort Fitzgerald. The closest health-care centre is in Fort Smith, N.W.T., about 24 kilometres away. Because the centre is over the border between the province and the territory, there have been some issues for Alberta residents accessing health care.

Beverly Tupper, a member of the Wood Buffalo Health Advisory Council, said it has been an ongoing issue. She encountered the problem when trying to get home care after surgery in 2013, but workers from Fort Smith couldn’t help her because of where she lived.

She said nothing has changed since then, which was the catalyst for her joining the health advisory council.

“It’s frustrating,” Tupper said. “It feels unfair to be a Canadian resident … and not be able to access the same level of health-care services that people 22 kilometres away can access with ease.”

Two people in a canoe.
Beverly Tupper is a longtime resident of Fort Fitzgerald. (Submitted by Beverly Tupper)

Tupper said she’d like to see an agreement between the the provincial and territorial governments. She said solutions could include getting nurses licensed to work in both Alberta and the Northwest Territories. 

Andrew Wind, acting manager of communications for the government of the Northwest Territories department of health and social services, said in a statement that Fort Fitzgerald is under Alberta’s jurisdiction and the province will have to find a solution. 

The program is meant to meet the needs of N.W.T. residents and there are barriers including licensing that prohibit the territorial nurses from working in Alberta. Another barrier is billing, Wind said. 

The Alberta government has not responded to CBC’s request for comment. 

Smith’s Landing First Nation Chief Thaidene Paulette said he has lived with the issue for his whole life.

“Elders or people with health-care needs on reserve simply can’t have the home-care staff come from the Fort Smith health-care centre that’s, like, two minutes away,” Paulette said. 

Midwifery services are the same, said Paulette. He said that was particularly frustrating for his mother, a midwife who could help people in Fort Smith, but not in Fort Fitzgerald where she lived. 

“It’s so absurd,” Paulette said. 

Historically, many First Nations members who  lived in Fort Fitzgerald were relocated in the 1950s to Fort Smith. Now many people would like to return to Smith’s Landing but health care can be a barrier, Paulette said. 

A sign.
Fort Fitzgerald residents go to the Fort Smith health centre for their medical needs. (Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

“We want the opportunity to provide elders’ housing,” Paulette said. “But without having the services there, we don’t want to leave these people kind of in a bind out in the cold if they do require home-care services.” 

He’s working with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch to find a solution. 

“This is all our traditional territory, but you get a border slapped between us, then it creates all these issues,” Paulette said. 

Matthew Gutsch, a spokesperson for Indigenous Services Canada, said the department is working with Smith’s Landing to make sure residents have access to health-care services. 

“Smith’s Landing First Nation is working with Indigenous Services Canada on preparing plans — health-care service agreements, options for home care services and opportunities for multi-year funding — to address the needs identified by the community in order to improve health care services available to community members,” Gutsch said in an emailed statement. 

Agnes Cheezie, who lives in Smith’s Landing, struggled with the health-care system when her late husband developed a blood disease after a surgery in 2015.

Without home-care services, Cheezie had to bring her husband to and from the health-care centre almost every day. He was a large man, and Cheezie struggled to transport him back and forth. On top of that, Cheezie had recently had abdominal surgery and was dealing with an infection.

“If we had home care coming in … it would’ve been a great help,” Cheezie said. 

She said she’d like to see an agreement between the governments so residents in Smith’s Landing can be seen as equal to the N.W.T. residents in the health-care system.

A man sits on a picnic table.
Chief of Smith’s Landing First Nation Thaidene Paulette sits in front of the Slave River in Fort Fitzgerald, AB. (Submitted by Thaidene Paulette)


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