KO Telehealth: New Service Getting Ready to Improve Community Access to Healthcare Visit website
Story published in the Feb 7, 2002 Wawatay News

By : Keewaytinook Okimakanak Staff Contribution

Four years ago. That's when the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Chiefs saw for the first time what telehealth could do for their communities. They were at the Ottawa Heart Institute watching a videoconference between a Cardiologist and a patient in the Northwest Territories.

They listened to a heart beating in a clinic thousands of kilometres away and they saw first hand how timely access to telehealth improved personal and community well-being. That's when the telehealth vision was formed. Joe Meekis, chief of Keewaywin First Nation at the time, asked, "why is this equipment and service not in our health clinic today?"

Plenty has happened since then. For the past three years, KO Director of Health Services, Orpah McKenzie, and K-Net Manager, Brian Beaton, have been piecing together a telehealth model that will work in remote First Nations communities. They are close to achieving what KO Executive Director, Geordi Kakepetum, describes as "a revolution in healthcare access for First Nations."

All of this work started to come together last January when Northern Chiefs joined Dr. Ed Brown and NORTH Network in a region-wide telehealth consultation. When asked if they thought telehealth could improve the level and quality of healthcare in their communities people in Deer Lake, Fort Severn, Keewaywin, North Spirit Lake and Poplar Hill responded with a loud 'Yes!'.

Since then, KO Health Services has been working with its health partners to make telehealth happen. The most visible part of this process has been the technology -- delivering, installing and testing telemedicine workstations and building a private and secure network.

But healthcare really is all about relationships and KO Health Services has been working hard to make sure that telehealth has a human face. Clinical staff at regional facilities like the Sioux Lookout Zone, Thunder Bay Regional Hospital and the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centres will be supporting telehealth so that people can see health care professionals who have northern experience and who know northern people.

Local telehealth coordinators - Lily Sawanas, Jordina Skunk, Mary Kakegamic, Julie Meekis and Rita Wassaykeesic - will be working with the KO Regional Telehealth Coordinator - Christine Penner Polle - and the Regional Medical Directors for Telehealth - Drs. Claudette Chase and Aaron Feldstein - to make sure that the program responds to community needs and conditions. John Rowlandson (KO's Telehealth Project Manager), Gibbet Stevens (Telehealth Communications Coordinator) and Elizabeth Pahkala (Health Secretary) make up the rest of KO's Telehealth team helping to make this project successful.

Donna Williams - KO's Telehealth Educator - is working with the Coordinators to prepare them for service delivery in early April. By the end of March each Coordinator will have completed an intensive training program so that they can provide the best possible telehealth service to people in their communities.

During the next few months the telehealth vision will be implemented. Slowly - in baby steps - to make sure people enjoy the service and are satisfied with the experience.

Health partners will start to deliver priority services like telepsychiatry, paediatric consults and patient education programs. Local health workers will participate in continuing health education and families will be able to use videoconferencing tools to visit with relatives who are in hospital.

For KOHS Director, Orpah McKenzie, "It's only the beginning. Right now, telehealth is a community project and the communities will take it where they need it to go."


Pictures for this article might include:

Barbara Roche, the Zone Hospital's Telehealth Coordinator, testing the new telemedicine equipment - January 2002

The telemedicine equipment in the Fort Severn Nursing Station - January 2002

Evaluating various telemedicine units at the Zone Hospital - August 2001