On Parliament Hill, Auditor General Karen Hogan discusses her latest audit reports on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One audit assesses the efforts of Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada in securing personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices for provincial and territorial governments before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other audit focuses on pandemic support for Indigenous communities and organizations. Hogan’s office examined whether Indigenous Services Canada provided sufficient PPE, nurses, and paramedics to protect Indigenous peoples against COVID-19
Traditional unceded Algonquin Territory (May 26, 2021) — The Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, issued the following statement today:
“Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) thanks the Office of the Auditor General of Canada for its report on Health Resources for Indigenous communities specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was issued on May 26.
Throughout the pandemic, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities have demonstrated incredible leadership, strength and resilience in their responses to this global public health threat. To support them, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked hard to provide communities and Indigenous organizations with the support needed to protect against and manage the impacts of the virus.
Our top priority was and remains the health, safety and well-being of First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals, families and communities.
We welcome the two recommendations set out in the report. We are pleased that the Auditor General’s report notes that ISC leveraged its strong partnerships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis partners to act and adapt quickly to the emerging challenges of this unprecedented pandemic. As noted in the report, the department expanded access to its stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) to address critical gaps in the provision of PPE during a period of global shortages. The report also notes that ISC made contract nurses and paramedics available to Indigenous communities and streamlined the process for hiring additional nurses while acknowledging the significant demand for scarce health human resources.
While the report focuses on direct operations on PPE and health human resources, there are many other ways in which the department provided support. We provided significant funding to First Nations, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous organizations to mobilize their own pandemic response teams, provide PPE supplies and implement many other public health and broader social measures to mitigate against COVID-19. The department also took immediate steps to avoid essential service interruptions in remote and isolated communities by standing up a contract for the delivery of dedicated air services to transport nurses from across Canada to remote and isolated communities. ISC also established new nurse and paramedic contracts that increased ISC’s contracted workforce by 177 health care workers, who are available to provide COVID-19 surge support primarily to remote, isolated and semi-isolated First Nations communities.
While our commitment to timely assistance has not wavered throughout this difficult time, we have learned lessons that will inform the department’s continued response efforts and better prepare us in the event of a future pandemic.
The country has been confronted with the need for investments in human resource capacity in the health sector. ISC will continue to collaborate with Indigenous partners and communities to address shortages, including working to find the right balance of health professional resources to support the needs of diverse communities. Indigenous-led health teams are key, as has been demonstrated by First Nations pandemic response teams, which is just one of many examples. To continue to address the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities beyond the pandemic, Budget 2021 invested $354 million over five years to increase the number of nurses and other medical professionals in remote and isolated First Nations communities.
In addition, ISC has committed to identifying and maintaining optimal amounts of PPE in the department’s stockpile to address the needs of First Nations communities, but also to work with provincial, territorial and federal partners in identifying the ideal amount of PPE required to protect all Indigenous Peoples, regardless of where they live in Canada.
ISC values the important recommendations put forward in the report, and we are committed to continuing this important work, in full partnership with our Indigenous partners.”