The good news is that the toxic mould that appeared in Mistissini’s health clinic this summer got cleared up pretty quickly.

The bad news is that the clinic that got cleaned up is the old one. Mistissini’s new medical clinic, which might have been operational by now, is being taken apart piece by piece by workers searching for more mould.

“The clinic that we’re in right now, there was air-quality issues that resulted from mould,” says Paul Linton of the Cree Board of Health (CSB). “That was investigated and the proper issues were taken according to CSST so that it was safe for people to work in. The new clinic that was under construction and just about ready to be opened had a water leak in the dental area. On investigation to see if there was any damage caused by the leak, mould was found in the building as well.”

Mistissini’s new health clinic is a long-awaited expansion of its previous medical capacity, with four times as much staff as the previous clinic averaged over the last decade, a full lab on-site, and units for haemodialysis and radiology.

“It’s less like a clinic and more like a mini-hospital,” says Mabel Herodier, Executive Director of the CSB.

As for the mould in the new building, Herodier explains, “There’s two parts to the problem. For the interior, when they were installing the dental equipment, some of the tubing they used was defective. Flooding occurred during a weekend. When people came in on the Monday, there was a large pool of water – not just in the dentistry area, even though it’s quite big. Water made it into the haemodialysis unit. Because they hadn’t totally finished installing all the equipment, it leaked into the crawl space.” From there, the moisture made its way elsewhere throughout the building.

“So we took care of that,” Herodier says. “And then we discovered mould in the exterior envelope [of the building]. We didn’t want to take a chance. We took off all the gyprock – we’re taking everything off. We have to redo all the brick, all the siding – but it’s the gyprock that has the mould on it. I guess what happened is that it got damp and they didn’t wait for it to dry before putting the siding on. Eventually we would have had serious problems. In the building it was more than one type of mould. We had to remove the gyprock, some of the flooring, and we had to do a lot of work and get rid of all the contaminated material.”

Though the general contractor was Cree Construction, Herodier couldn’t recall at the time of the interview who the subcontractor was.

“We have to settle it,” she says. “It’s not just the construction company, it’s also the supplier for the dental equipment. They were the ones who installed the equipment. They have to follow their own specifications. We don’t do any part of that. We decided to cover [the cost of] it for now, but we have to settle all these matters. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be moving into this building any time soon.”

Linton is perhaps less optimistic. “Things are moving,” he says. “At the clinic, once we found the mould, it moved very fast. It was taken care of in a number of weeks.”

However, the pace of repairs on the new clinic has been much slower.

“This one’s taking longer because of insurance and lawyers and all that stuff,” says Linton. “Now they’re actually working on it, but it sat idle all the summer because everyone was fighting with everybody. Everything should be up to standard – they say it will be ready in a couple of months, so I’m figuring sometime in the next calendar year.”

Part of what’s slowed the process of repairs has been the amount of work undertaken to make sure the new facility will be absolutely safe for the public and its employees.

“The community doesn’t have anything to worry about,” says Herodier. “We’ve taken all the security measures with Public Health and CSST – we even brought special sniffing dogs to sniff for mould. Plus once all reconstruction is completed, we have to do all the fine vacuuming and wipe-downs, all the very fine cleaning. We checked everything – the ventilation, even parts of the suspended ceilings.”

What worries Herodier most is that the delay is preventing locals from getting the health care they deserve.

“The population deserves the kind of facility that we built,” she says, “especially when we think about patients who are receiving haemodialysis – they can’t even stay home. Either they have to travel to Chibougamau, or to Montreal. At least now they can come home. We’re not going to start haemodialysis right away – it takes about two months before we can fully set up everything, and hire all our professionals, but eventually, in March or April, these people can come. When you think about the quality of life – family life – it makes such a difference. So I’m anxious, very anxious, to open this facility.”