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Remote northern hospital fights for promised federal funding for new health campus

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Weeneebayko Area Health Authority insists the Government of Canada honours 2007 agreement 


(Toronto, ON, May 27, 2024) – Today, Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Lynne Innes, was joined by National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, Assembly of First Nations (AFN); Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN); Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare, Chiefs of Ontario, and Grand Chief Leo Friday, Mushkegowuk Council, who stand in solidarity with Ms. Innes and her insistence that the Government of Canada commit in writing to its portion of the costs to build the much needed new health care campus in Moosonee. Also joining were Chief Peter Wesley, Moose Cree First Nation; Chief Sylvia Koostachin-Metatawabin, Attawapiskat First Nation, representing Fort Albany First Nation Evelyn Korkmaz, Dominic Giroux, Board Chair, Ontario Health Association (OHA) and Anthony Dale, President and CEO, OHA.

On April 23 of this year, WAHA received confirmation that the federal funding contribution to the cost of construction of its new health campus was not included in the 2024-2025 Federal Budget, as was expected. It was expected because, in 2007, the federal government signed the Weeneebayko Area Health Integration Framework Agreement (WAHIFA), committing to funding 45 per cent of the capital costs to build a new health campus in the town of Moosonee. 

Included in the new health campus is a hostel, staff housing, an Elder Care Centre and a new hospital, plus an acute care centre on Moose Factory Island. The new hospital in Moosonee will replace Weeneebayko General Hospital (WGH), originally built in 1950 as a tuberculosis facility, located on Moose Factory Island. WGH is the oldest un-renovated hospital in Canada.

In 2019, when Ms. Innes was appointed President and CEO of WAHA, the capital planning process to get approval and eventual transfer of funding for the new health campus began in earnest. This work, referred to as the WAHA Redevelopment Project, included regular meetings with the project’s two funders: the Government of Canada, represented by Indigenous Service of Canada, and the Government of Ontario, represented by the Ministry of Health and Infrastructure Ontario.

The Redevelopment Project has progressed steadily since 2019 and all partners received and were aware of the cost estimates, and when funding letters would be required to secure financing to ensure the second phase of construction would begin in fall 2024. The federal government reneged on WAHIFA when funding for the Redevelopment Project was not included in its 2024-2025 budget.

“The colonial history in our region is very prevalent in our current hospital. Our elders and knowledge keepers, who were apprehended as children to be isolated with tuberculosis, are now forced to seek care in that same facility, or leave their culture, language, and family to receive care in southern Ontario. This re-traumatization and re-institutionalization, coupled with the derelict state of the facility, is a grave marker for our communities. I truly appreciate the support we have received from the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Health for Ontario, and my healthcare and hospital colleagues who rallied behind us and brought much needed attention to our situation.”

– Lynne Innes, President and CEO, WAHA

 “This hospital project is a much-needed infrastructure venture, leading to an essential service for all people who live in Northern Ontario, and with particular significance for First Nations in the region. These Nations are prepared to support the goal of a hospital, and can be part of the planning, construction, development and share ideas for operations that are strengths-based and culture-informed. The federal government is obligated to ensure First Nations can access quality healthcare in alignment with inherent and Treaty rights.  With that in mind, I stand with these communities in asking for a renewed commitment from the Minister to ensure this project is completed.”

– National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, AFN

 “WAHA provides vital life-saving services to some of the most underserviced First Nations in the country, and its infrastructure has long been in need of replacement.  Nowhere else in Canada would citizens accept this standard of care, and why should we? Silence speaks volumes and we simply cannot wait any longer. Our federal Treaty partner must honour its obligations and confirm funding for this project today.”

– Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

“As leaders of our Nations, we stand here not only to demand the federal government honor its commitment to funding our new health campus, but to uphold our inherent rights to equitable healthcare. Our presence today signifies our unwavering dedication to the well-being of our people, echoing the voices of our ancestors who fought tirelessly for justice and sovereignty. As Treaty People, we are here to ensure that promises made are promises kept, for the health and dignity of our communities.”

– Grand Chief Leo Friday, Mushkegowuk Council

“After seventy-five years, Weeneebayko General Hospital is so run down it cannot deliver the quality care Omushkego people need. It is a health risk, not a place to heal. A hospital in such disrepair would not be tolerated anywhere else in the country—in places that are less remote or populated by non-Indigenous people. Why should it be tolerated here? Why should we be left behind?”

– Chief Peter Wesley, Moose Cree First Nation

“Canada must honour its fiduciary responsibilities and uphold their promises with Omushkegowuk People of James Bay. Healthcare and access delivery is a Treaty Right. Canada must be held accountable for withdrawing its financial commitment for the new WAHA Redevelopment Project. No more will we allow governments to continue to treat us with such disregard and disrespect.”

– Chief Sylvia Koostachin-Metatawabin, Attawapiskat First Nation

“The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), alongside more than 100 leaders from Ontario’s hospital community, have expressed total support for the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA) Redevelopment Project. The people of the James and Hudson’s Bay coasts, who are predominantly members of Cree First Nations, rely on WAHA for their health services. First built in 1950 as a tuberculosis facility, despite the heroic efforts of its staff and leadership, the Weeneebayko General Hospital on Moose Factory Island is no longer in acceptable condition. Its useful life cannot be extended any longer. By any objective standard, the WAHA redevelopment project should be at the very top of every priority list. This project is an established partnership between Infrastructure Ontario and Indigenous Services Canada, with the Government of Ontario having already committed full funding for its portion. The OHA and Ontario’s hospitals call on the Government of Canada to honour its commitment and fully fund this long overdue redevelopment project.”

– Anthony Dale, President and CEO, Ontario Hospital Association

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For media enquiries, contact:

Elizabeth McCarthy, Director of Strategy and Communications, WAHA

249-313-1258

elizabeth.mccarthy@waha.ca

Additional Resource

Please click here to view WAHA Press Release