Former Cree Grand Chief Spends 4 Days In An ER Hallway After Travelling To Montreal For Health Care | CBC News


Matthew Mukash’s family is speaking out after he spent four days in a congested ER in Montreal. They say his experience highlights the struggles of Cree and Inuit patients who can get stuck waiting for care after travelling south to hospitals.

‘There was nowhere that we could go,’ says granddaughter who accompanied Matthew Mukash

Rachel Watts · CBC News

· Posted: Jan 17, 2024 4:00 AM EST | Last Updated: January 17

Matthew Mukash waited in the emergency department for four days. Now his family is sharing his story to highlight the additional barriers some Cree and Inuit patients can face accessing health care after travelling south. (Pakesso Mukash)When Jade Mukash accompanied her grandfather to Montreal on Jan. 7, she never imagined they’d be sitting in the ER hallway for four days.

Positioned next to a glass partition next to the ER door, Matthew Mukash, the former grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees in Quebec, said he had difficulty sleeping.

“I was placed here right at the entrance. I’m still here,” said Mukash, in a video recorded by his son, Pakesso Mukash.

“Someone else was rolled into the room I was originally placed [in]. So here, it’s very busy. New people arriving regularly,” he said, pointing to the registration office about four metres away.

The 72-year-old was sent to the Montreal General Hospital after he started losing weight and experiencing mobility issues. After seeing a nurse and having blood tests and scans performed overnight, he had to be admitted.

Jade Mukash says she was told her grandfather would be temporarily moved into the hall.

“He wasn’t moved after that until he was discharged four days later,” said Jade.

“We were told that we were just waiting, waiting for a room to become available … It was really unnecessary.”

The family is sharing their story with the hope of highlighting additional barriers some Cree and Inuit patients may face after travelling hundreds of kilometres south to access health care in emergency rooms that continue to overflow. 

“I do feel like there needs to be more compassion for them and more patience,” said Jade.

“To not just tell them, ‘you have to wait like everybody else.’ And it’s true, you do have to wait like anybody else that comes in the ER but the difference is for my grandfather, especially, for him to be in the ER lobby, there was nowhere that we could go,” said Jade.

“It’s not a simple taxi ride home. It’s a flight home. And that’s like the biggest difference.”

WATCH | A former Cree grand chief waited 4 days in a Montreal ER: 

Cree elder airlifted to hospital spends 4 days in ER hallwayAn elder from an isolated Cree community in northern Quebec spent four days in an ER hallway after being flown to Montreal by air ambulance. Patient advocates say the case highlights the need for better health care in remote regions.

Improving the system for Indigenous patientsRichard Budgell, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at McGill University, says former chief Mukash’s situation reflects part of a “system collapse” in Quebec.

“It’s made worse for people who are coming from remote locations — like Cree coming from Eeyou Istchee, the Cree territory, Inuit coming from Nunavik,” said Budgell.

“So you’re being evacuated in a situation of emergency by air ambulance to come to a health centre that presumably can provide better treatment than what you would be able to get within your own region.”

He says showing up to find a wait of several hours or even days results in “a bad situation made worse.”

“Even when you know people are trying to be as caring as possible… it’s still uncomfortable,” said Budgell.

He says travelling to get health care also comes with increased risk to patients. Although there are limits to what kind of care can be provided locally, Budgell says it’s often a matter of logistics and money.

Bertie Wapachee, chair of the Cree Health Board, says a solution is in the works.

He says a new hospital could open in Chisasibi in northern Quebec in 2026. Building the hospital should help reduce the number of medevacs to Montreal and keep patients within the territory, Wapachee said.

“It’s a game changer for our nation and for our territory,” said Wapachee.

“The system that we have now, we have to live with. But that doesn’t stop us from planning to improve the entire system in the north for our people.”

He says right now the health system is set up to manage crises, but it is also unpredictable.

“Last year I was medevaced three times and each time I ended up there, I was in the hallway for a couple of days myself,” said Wapachee. “It’s not the most ideal situation to be in as a patient.”

Jade Mukash says being sent far away from home can be confusing and challenging for some Indigenous patients. (Pakesso Mukash)Indigenous affairs minister ‘very concerned’ Jade Mukash says she stayed with her grandfather as much as she could over the course of four days before he was discharged and sent to a hotel for Cree patients in Montreal.

She says something needs to give to help other Indigenous patients.

“It is confusing, you know, to be sent so far away from home,” said Jade. “To be sent to these places where [patients] might not speak English or French.”

In an emailed statement, the office of Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière said they do not have all the details to judge the situation but that the minister is “very concerned about the situation of ex-chief Mukash.”

“Health-care establishments must ensure that they adapt their services so that they are culturally safe for Indigenous patients,” read the statement.

A spokesperson for the Montreal General Hospital said in an emailed statement that all establishments in the health-care network are going through a difficult time.

“The MUHC is no exception. This unfortunate situation has an impact on our patients and their families,” read the statement.

They said overcrowding in the emergency department is partly due to a record number of patients occupying beds while waiting to be transferred elsewhere. Staff shortages also play a role.

They said for several months now, they’ve been working on dozens of projects to improve co-ordination and patient flow in the emergency department.

While they would not comment on the situation of any particular patient, they said for Indigenous patients coming from the north, a liaison officer is available to provide support, answer questions and facilitate exchanges between caregivers and patients.


Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec. You can reach her at

Follow Rachel on TwitterWith files from Paula Dayan Perez, Sarah Leavitt, Alison Northcott and Jessica Rubinger

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