I recently had another experience of being a medical escort for a family member. Being an escort means assisting a family member from the Cree communities of Eeyou Istchee who needs to travel outside their community for health care.
Escorts make many sacrifices to support their loved ones. While Cree Health Board covers some of the costs for escorts (room and board), there are additional costs they end up paying out of their own pockets. This can run the gambit from tampons to aspirin or melatonin (to help you sleep) to books and newspapers.
An escort might have taken time off work (using compassionate leave or vacation time) or had to leave work entirely. Not only are they missing those hours on paycheques, but they may also end up not maximizing future retirement benefits.
Helping patients can include feeding (cooking or taking them to restaurants), bathing, dressing, grooming, assisting use of the toilet, assuring medication is taken, and mobility. Above all, escorts ensure that patients get to their appointments on time and understand the care they receive.
Cree escorts used to receive some money, but this isn’t so these days. One wonders why, but by discussing this with long-time patients and workers we found a probable cause.
In that past, some Cree escorts used their per diems to drink and so the health board decided the easiest way to handle this problem was to not give escorts any money. It made for less costs and paperwork. I think that the solution was the wrong one. The health board has no right to interfere in someone’s personal life except when it impacts the health of the patient. A simpler solution would have been to make a list of the troublemakers and ban them from being escorts.
However, the bottom line is one that we should understand. Escorts are doing the work they do out of the goodness of their hearts. It is not right to expect anyone to provide such a crucial service for free. We do not expect this of anyone else in the Cree Nation and we should not expect it here.
It doesn’t have to be a great amount, but looking at the faces around the Espresso Hotel one can see the difficulties it places on both the escorts and the patients. The food there is okay at times, but people receive smaller portions than most would like. It is also a limited menu that can become tiring after a while.
Having a chance to head out and enjoy a meal at a restaurant would be a change from their daily routine. Being able to afford to go to a movie or some other entertainment would be wonderful. As nice as the Espresso is, having to stay there 24/7 is like being in a half-way house with nothing to do.
Escorts do their duties while missing family and friends and not participating in traditional and community activities. Being away from home is hard enough. Pay Cree patient escorts for their time and sacrifices because it’s the right thing to do.