Quebec parents and guardians are now officially allowed to accompany children on emergency air evacuations, after months of calls for change and pressure from physicians and advocacy groups.
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services made the announcement Friday, saying air ambulances represent the only means for the area’s 14 communities to access emergency care in a safe manner.
“This is excellent news for the communities as well as for the well-being of Nunavik children,” said executive director Minnie Grey in a statement.
The Quebec government first announced in February it would allow parents to accompany a sick child on air ambulances after a trio of doctors and pediatric societies challenged the policy, saying it disproportionately affected northern Inuit and First Nations communities.
They argued sending children who require immediate medical care from remote areas to hospitals alone was traumatic and could lead to issues providing treatment.
“These traumas can potentially have adverse emotional and psychological effects in these children,” read the letter signed by the three pediatric doctors.
Health Minister Gaétan Barrette also unveiled last week a 18-month pilot project to transfer patients between hospitals by helicopter. He called it a step toward in establishing a more complete air ambulance service in Quebec.
The service, which is set to begin in September, will allow urgent care patients to be transported from six facilities in three regions to Sacré-Coeur Hospital in Montreal.
The move came a day after Barrette came under fire for remarks he made while conversing with a citizen about people who board emergency flights from remote northern villages.
In the audio recording obtained by CBC and Le Devoir, Barrette said, “I can tell you one thing, if you follow that in the news, I guarantee you that there will be one instance in the next six months, someone will not be made allowed to board a flight, not allowed to get on the plane.”
“Why? Because no one — agitated, drugged, under whatever influence — would get on the plane at any cost. That will not happen. And that happens all the time.”
Barrette apologized for the comments, saying they were not specifically directed at Indigenous communities after several Indigenous leaders called for his resignation.
Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said the comments suggested the “very deep roots of discrimination and prejudice against Aboriginal peoples.”
–with files from Global’s Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press