Queen's University set to open satellite campus in northern Ontario

The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority (WAHA), Queen’s University, and the Mastercard Foundation have formed a partnership that they say aims to transform healthcare in Northeastern Ontario.

The Queen’s Weeneebayko Health Education Program was officially announced on Tuesday, offering healthcare training to communities on the western shore of James Bay, with a specific focus on providing opportunities for Indigenous youth and promoting culturally-safe healthcare.

The vision of this partnership is to establish a training site in Moosonee that will serve coastal community sites like Moose Factory and Attawapiskat.

Moosonee is a community only accessible by plane or winter ice road, it has the smallest population of the five western shoreline communities and is over 300 kilometres north of Timmins, Ontario.

While WAHA is currently based in Moose Factory, a new hospital will be built in Moosonee which will effectively make that the Health Authority's home base and the area's hub for healthcare.

As such, it was a practical choice to locate the new education centre in the same place.

WAHA President and CEO Lynn Innes said the partnership could provide great opportunities for youth today and future generations in the area.

“This is a very important initiative for the Weeneebayko Region that will help increase the capacity for culturally-safe healthcare that is directed and delivered by health professionals from our communities,” Innes said.

“It is exciting to work together on this new approach that will support Indigenous youth as they pursue healthcare careers and build a stronger, healthier future for the communities we serve.”

The program is meant to be sustainable and community-centred, with the hope that focusing more training within the community will help with employee retention in the remote northern areas.

It will also try to put a particular emphasis on addressing gaps and challenges in healthcare that exist for northern Indigenous communities including low accessibility to providers and facilities, the need for cultural safety, and a general lack of Indigenous healthcare providers both in the communities and throughout the country.

The Mastercard Foundation is involved in this partnership through its EleV Program, and is committing upwards of $31 million to its implementation.

The funding will go mainly towards getting everything in place for the program to get started, with an eye towards outfitting it with resources that will be sustainable and developing curriculum that can eventually be delivered locally by graduates of the program.

David Taylor, Queen's senior advisor for the new program, says transitioning the program from one managed and delivered by Queen's faculty to one led by community members is a key focus in the initial plan.

"We're going to go through a transition period where really we're having a lot of that curriculum delivered by people from Kingston," Dr. Taylor said.

"But ultimately we want to land where the bulk of it is being delivered locally in community."

Dr. Taylor said it's also important for the program to be "reaching back" to community high schools and ensuring those students have the supports and resources in place to be able to move into post secondary education relatively seamlessly.

Curriculum is to be co-created by Queen's and WAHA, with a focus on some key aspects like integrating Indigenous knowledge and dedicated mentorship and retention strategies to grow a qualified healthcare system from within the community.

Dr. Taylor says the university is actually taking the lead on that, given staffing concerns seen throughout the healthcare system are even further exacerbated in northern communities.

He adds however that to ensure it's delivered in the way it needs to be in order to be sustainable and culturally safe, it's done with a ton of oversight from community partners.

"All of this work has to start with listening," Dr. Taylor said.

"That's really key to building a partnership, to building the trust that's really needed."

This campus will build on a relationship that spans decades between Queen's and WAHA which included a week long health sciences camp for high school students at Queen's in August 2022.

It began in 1965 when Queen's was asked to lead the transition of Moose Factory's TB hospital into a general hospital.

That relationship grew over the years and Kingston General Hospital became, and continues to be, the tertiary care centre for residents of those communities.

Enrollment in the program could start as early as September 2025, with an ultimate enrollment of 240 students per year, across the health professions like medicine, nursing, and midwifery.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News