The federal government is spending nearly $3 million to help get a temporary nursing station up and running in Cat Lake First Nation in northwestern Ontario following a fire earlier this month.

The Margaret Gray Nursing Station burned down the night of March 2, leaving the remote Ojibway community of roughly 650 people without a central space to access health-care services.

Last week’s cold snap created favourable conditions on the community’s winter road, and seven modular buildings arrived and are being converted into a temporary nursing station.Cat Lake is currently using its healing centre as an interim health-care space.

Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu announced $2.8 million on Thursday for “the purchase, transport and setup of the modular units as [Cat Lake’s] new health facility is built.”

“As the community recovers, the federal government will ensure Cat Lake has the supports and services they need, when they need them. We are with the community every step of the way,” said Hajdu’s press secretary, Jennifer Kozelj, in an email Thursday.

Cat Lake First Nation Chief Russell Wesley estimated it will take about a month to set up the modular buildings.

Boil-water advisory lifted, evacuees to return home

A boil-water advisory put in place on Feb. 26 — and extended in part due to the fire — was also lifted this week. 

When community members tried to save the nursing station building from the blaze, the fire pump continued to pump water, which drained the water reservoir. That, combined with delays in getting additives for the water supply, caused the advisory to be extended, Wesley explained.

More than 80 vulnerable people from the community were sent to Thunder Bay to receive specialized medical services following the fire. Those evacuees are to return to Cat Lake this weekend, Wesley said.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had any loss of life during this time,” he said. 

However, Wesley said, the situation has shone a light on broader health-care challenges in northern Ontario. 

“A concern that’s kind of emerged during this crisis is the knowledge that there’s a doctor and nursing crisis in Ontario, and that it’s pretty bad,” he said.

“Fortunately for me, we’ve had dedicated doctors for quite a while … but there’s an emerging crisis that needs to be paid attention to on a regional scale.”

Before the nursing station fire, the community presented plans for a new health centre, but Wesley said Indigenous Services Canada wanted to renovate the nursing station instead of something new being built.

He hopes to meet with government officials in the coming weeks to discuss Cat Lake’s long-term health care plans.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting the parties back together and then they’ll be reinitializing the discussions around that health centre design proposal,” he said.

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