(Okay, I made it up the stairs without tripping and without a costume malfunction phew. Thank you for inviting us here, it’s 3 degrees in Iqaluit so it is very nice to be in Ottawa!)
It’s an great honour to be nominated for the Michener Award along side the other wonderful teams and news organizations here tonight. I have admired many of you for your journalistic work over the years and it is special to be here with you.
Amber Hildebrandt with CBC’s Digital Unit was the lead on this investigation and she dedicated heart and soul to this project. It was an honour for us in Iqaluit…myself, Jordan Konek, Vincent Robinet and others… to be a part of her team. Thank you to Marissa Nelson and the digital team for your dedication to this work and to Archie McLean for believing in this project.
Unfortunately Amber can’t be with us tonight. She just delivered a beautiful 9 pound plus baby boy named Elliot Jacob and she is not ready to travel quite yet!
Amber told me that during her pregnancy she had many choices in Toronto…of health care workers, hospital or home birth…pediatricians… and if she didn’t feel comforatble with one she could choose another.
In the north, there are many wonderful doctors and nurses, working hard to provide health care. In the capital, Iqaluit, where I live, there are more options. But in the smaller communities, that is not always the case. There are staff shortages and struggles to get and keep health staff.
In 2012, Neevee Akesuk did deliver a healthy baby boy named Makibi in Cape Dorset, a small Arctic community in Nunavut. At 3 months of age, he became suddenly ill. The mother called the local health centre but the nurse on call that night refused to see him, telling the mother to come back in the morning. That’s despite government rules that nurses must see babies under one year of age if the parent calls.
Makibi died hours later of a common viral infection that had spread to both of his lungs. Several health workers say he had a chance of surviving if he had been seen right away. He didn’t have that chance.
When CBC looked into the story, it was discovered that there were already many complaints against the nurse who was on duty that night…complaints that she had refused to see other patients or had misdiagnosed patients. There were also concerns about her ability to practice. These complaints were largely ignored by senior health officials in Nunavut.
The territorial government continued to employ the nurse and in fact, she was even promoted and put in charge of the Cape Dorset health centre.
CBC obtained a series of documents and emails showing that the territorial government knew that their handling of the situation had created a public risk to the health of those living in Cape Dorset.
Still, nothing was done.
It was only when CBC went public…on digital, radio, TV…in English and Inuktitut…across the North and across Canada…that the Nunavut government took action.
It ordered an independent review of how the nurse was handled and the circumstances surrounding Makibi’s death. This review is now underway with results and recommendations expected in the fall.
Your Excellencies, thank you very much for inviting us here. His Excellency said earlier that journalists are much like gardeners, digging to get at the story or truth. We have been digging and will keep digging to do investigative stories in the north. They are costly, time consuming and it is very hard to find whistleblowers in small communities because everybody knows everybody and people are often afraid to speak out. But CBC is dedicated to investigative work, even in the remote parts of our country such as the North.
We would like to thank the Michener Awards for nominating our team. It is a great honour and we would like to dedicate this nomination to the memory of Makibi…to his parents who shared their tragedy…and to the nurses who spoke out.
Qujannamiik … Nakurmiik … Thank you … Merci !