Northern Health’s Board of Directors meet in Smithers for a public session on April 15. (Trevor Hewitt photo)

Indigenous health care a major topic for Northern Health

Health care access and new medical resource written entirely in Gitxsan on Northern Health agenda

From improving health care for Indigenous communities to unveiling a new volume of a medical resource written entirely in Gitxsan, Northern Health had indigineous healthcare on the agenda April 15.

One of the common denominators of a April 15 public board meeting for the healthcare provider was improving not just access, but the overall health care experience of northern B.C.’s Indigenous people.

Central to that theme was the development of a planned ‘Cultural Safety and Humility Training Framework’ which was co-developed by Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

The proposed 24-hour course will be split into four six-hour sections (cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, reciprocity, and practicing cultural safety and respect) and aims to provide health care professionals with the knowledge, self-awareness, and self-reflection they require to effectively provide care to Indigenous communities in the north. According to the healthcare provider’s VP of Aboriginal Health Margo Greenwood, the training replaces previous programs that didn’t address the specific needs of northern B.C.’s Indigenous population.

“What we heard a lot of times from people who had taken [previous] training … was it really doesn’t get down to the specifics of where the people are working,” she said.

It was out of this query – how Northern Health could make its training more specific to the region – that Greenwood says the new framework was born.

“If I was a new practitioner coming to your community, what do you want me to know about you so I can serve you better?”

In with the new

Another highlight of Greenwood’s presentation was the announcement that a second volume of a Gitxsan phrase book, originally released in 2017, had been completed. She says that on top of improving health care access for Indigenous communities, it is also important to improve the overall health care experience itself, especially for people who don’t speak much English.

“It would be really helpful for [Gitxsan speakers] to feel comfortable and welcomed if our staff, our employees could say some Gitxsan words,” she said, adding initiatives like these are essential in helping Indigenous people feel comfortable seeking out health care.

“You can’t go to a college or university to learn this,” Greenwood said.

The implementation of Mental Wellness Mobile Support Teams (MSTs) throughout various Indigenous communities in the North was also discussed.

Though not fully functional yet, the MSTs will offer a wide range of medical services to communities such as Witset and the Lake Babine Nation in Burns Lake. It’s something Greenwood says is part of Northern Health’s ‘primary care home’ model, which focuses on making sure people receive continued health services in their own community, regardless of where they first seek out medical help.

“The intent is that the clinicians can go out to communities to actually bring services closer to a community, rather than having to go to a more central area,” she said.

Looking forward

A number of planned initiatives were also discussed at the meeting, such as a summer camp program for Indigenous teenagers with a focus on the sciences and a recruitment strategy for hiring more Indigenous people as employees of Northern Health and the FNHA.

Moving forward, a number of Indigenous/Aboriginal Health Improvement Committees (I/AHICs) will have the opportunity to speak at an annual gathering. The meeting will serve as a chance for I/AHICs to “engage in discussions around the cultural safety training and also to engage in discussions that highlight innovative ideas for future resources and delivery methods,” Greenwood explained.



trevor.hewitt@interior-news.com

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