Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Course Teaches Residents in Remote Northern Community Emergency Response Skills

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Course Teaches Residents in Remote Northern Community Emergency Response Skills

Article excerpt

Course brings EMS skills to remote north


TORONTO - Imagine living in a remote Canadian community where the nearest hospital is hundreds of kilometres away, reachable only by plane after at least four hours in the air. Now imagine a loved one has been seriously injured in an accident while out hunting.

This is a very real scenario for the 400 residents of Sachigo Lake, a First Nations community in Northern Ontario near the Manitoba border, and one that could leave them feeling helpless.

But an innovative educational program is trying to address the lack of prompt access to medical professionals by turning some residents into emergency responders with the skills to provide interim care to their fellow residents.

The course began as a research project at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, initiated by two doctors who saw the inadequacy of standard first aid programs in an isolated community with a paucity of on-site medical resources.

"Call 911 in Sachigo Lake and you get a busy signal, no sirens and no paramedics," said Dr. Aaron Orkin, one of the researchers who helped create the program, which is described in this week's issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

He said the key aspect that sets apart the Sachigo Lake Wilderness Emergency Response Education Initiative from other first aid courses elsewhere in Canada's north is that it isn't about top-down teaching.

"The most important feature of this whole project is not teaching a certain first aid curriculum that we think is the right idea," Orkin said Tuesday. "It's not about a bunch of physicians and paramedics coming in to a far northern community and saying 'these are the skills we think you need to know.'"

"This project is about an iterative and lasting collaboration with the community, where we have worked with the locals at various levels of leadership ... to say: 'What are the kinds of emergencies that have happened here? What are the kinds of things that make you worry if you're in the community or out on the land and hunting, fishing, trapping? ... What are the things that you think you need to know?"

He said the program ended up being shaped by the needs of Sachigo Lake residents, based on their experiences and elevated rates of traumatic injury, chronic disease and mental health issues.

"So really the product that we have here is not a first aid course, it's a collaboration," said Orkin, who also specializes in emergency medicine at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto.

Orkin said that because the typical mode of transportation in Sachigo Lake is a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle, injuries from accidents involving the vehicles are relatively common.

As well, high rates of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes among aboriginal Canadians can mean dealing with patients experiencing heart attacks, stroke or diabetic coma. …

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