The Government of Saskatchewan and Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation have announced a partnership to help alleviate wait times at Saskatoon emergency rooms.

The two organizations have officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the development of a new urgent care centre in the city.

The partnership will be used to identify possible locations for the facility, development designs, as well as potential costs.

The care centre will be for Saskatoon residents to receive immediate healthcare for non-life-threatening injuries or illness with the hope this facility will help reduce wait times at the city’s emergency rooms.

“There are recognized delays at emergency rooms (in the city) and this is a huge step,” said Saskatchewan’s Health Minister Paul Merriman while announcing the partnership at an event in Saskatoon on Monday afternoon. “Urgent care centres are innovative facilities that will help us meet our province’s evolving health needs.”

Ahtahkakoop’s economic development arm Ahtahkakoop Cree Developments (ACD) will take on the project. The care centre will be built and owned by ACD with the Saskatchewan Health Authority poised to operate the facility once constructed.

Ahtahkakoop Chief Larry Ahenakew says the project felt right for the First Nation as it tackles both a need for the community along with providing economic opportunity for the band.

“Today’s announcement is historic and paves a path forward to improve access to urgent care, new supports for mental health, and opportunities for training and employment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens,” he said.

While Chief Ahenakew spoke on possible economic opportunity he said it was too early to tell if this would be a for-profit operation for the Cree Nation.

Even though this care centre is early on in the process both the province and the Cree Nation say the facility will have culturally Indigenous aspects to its design and operation.

Chief Ahenakew mentioned Ahtahkakoop recently signed their Treaty Land Entitlement agreement last year and he says procuring land for this care centre will be a part of the process.

The province is currently constructing a similar Urgent care centre in Regina with work having begun on that facility earlier this year.

(Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation Chief Larry Ahenakew and Health Minister Paul Merriman at a press event in Saskatoon.  Photo by Joel Willick.)