Health Resources for Indigenous Communities—Indigenous Services Canada

Opening Statement before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Health Resources for Indigenous Communities—Indigenous Services Canada

(Report 11—2021 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada)

3 March 2022

Andrew Hayes
Deputy Auditor General

Thank you, Mr. Chair. We are happy to appear before your committee today to present the results of our audit of health resources for Indigenous communities. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People. Joining me today are Glenn Wheeler, who was the principal responsible for the audit, and Doreen Deveen, the director who led the team.

This audit focused on whether Indigenous Services Canada provided personal protective equipment, nurses, and paramedics to meet the needs of Indigenous communities and organizations during the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Overall, we found that Indigenous Services Canada adapted quickly to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the department relied on the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile to supplement its own supply of protective equipment.

Before the pandemic, the department was providing equipment and health care workers to 51 remote or isolated First Nations communities. We found that during the pandemic, the department expanded access to protective equipment to all Indigenous communities when provinces and territories were unable to meet the demand. It also expanded access to protective equipment to other individuals, such as police officers and people sick with COVID‑19 or caring for a sick family member.

During the first 10 months of the pandemic, the department responded to more than 1,600 requests for multiple pieces of protective equipment. We found that communities—many of which are remote—received their shipments on average within 10 days of requesting equipment.

However, we found a number of weaknesses in the way that the department managed its own stockpile of personal protective equipment before and during the pandemic. The department did not have complete and accurate data on the stockpile’s contents. We also found that the department had not followed its own approach in procuring sufficient equipment before the pandemic. As a result, it did not have enough of some types of protective equipment in its stockpile when the pandemic broke out.

We also found that in relation to providing nurses and paramedics to communities, the department streamlined its processes for hiring nurses in remote or isolated First Nations communities. In addition, the department made its contract nurses and paramedics available to all Indigenous communities to respond to additional COVID‑19 health care needs.

While the department took steps to increase capacity, the number of requests for extra nurses and paramedics also increased. As a result, the department was unable to meet more than half of the 963 requests that it received between March 2020 and March 2021 for extra nurses and paramedics.

The pandemic aggravated pre‑existing challenges in meeting nursing needs in remote or isolated First Nations communities. Several factors contributed to nursing shortages in many of these communities, including the national shortage of nurses, the challenging nature of the work, the diverse skill set required to work in remote or isolated communities, and poor housing.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.