Stars align for health care transformation

Flood of new programs and services announced

GOntario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Minister of Indigenous Services Dr. Jane Philpott signing the Charter of Relationship Principles Governing Health Care Transformation.

BY NORM TOLLINSKY
It may be too early to predict what health care transformation for Northern Ontario’s Indigenous people will look like, but for once, the stars appear to be in perfect alignment for meaningful change.
Spearheaded by the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and supported by both the provincial and federal governments, health care transformation is generating a flood of promises and new investments for new and expanded programs and services.
In February, the province announced home care funding for 133 First Nation communities, 16 new or expanded interprofessional primary care teams, palliative care training of up to 1,000 health care workers, 34 mental health and wellness programs and 10 healing and treatment centres with 50 new beds. In all cases, the province emphasizes that the programs and services will be Indigenous governed and Indigenous led, acknowledging the expressed desire by Indigenous people to control their own destiny.
Across NAN territory, 10 organizations will receive funding for mental health and wellness programs and four organizations will receive funding for interprofessional primary care teams, including the Taykwa Tagamou Nation, the Mushkegowuk Council, the Matawa Health Co-operative and the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority.
The Ontario First Nations Health Action Plan allocates $222 million in new investments over three years and $18 million in mental health and wellness programs over two years.
The federal government’s new Department of Indigenous Services has also pledged increased assistance for a wide range of programs and services, including funds to address deficits in the social determinants of health. An additional $7 million has been committed for mental health and wellness teams and more than $22 million has been allocated for the Choose Life initiative.
In its 2017 budget, the federal government committed more than $118 million over five years for First Nation mental health programming on top of the $69 million announced in July 2016 for immediate crisis intervention and the $300 million the government provides annually to support culturally relevant mental wellness programs for First Nations across the country. Ottawa’s 2017 budget also set aside $828 million over five years for maternal and child health, mental wellness, home and palliative care, primary care, infectious diseases, non-insured health benefits and harm reduction measures.
“Transforming health systems is a monumental undertaking and we are pleased to have commitments from Canada and Ontario to work with our First Nations,” said NAN’s Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “We welcome direct funding from Ontario to our First Nations, which will allow us to build capacity at the community level. Ongoing commitments by Ontario and Canada are critical to close the gaps and recognize First Nation jurisdiction over our health, children and families.”
According to NAN, the legacy of residential schools and intergenerational trauma has resulted in 430 suicides in the Sioux Lookout region and 500 across NAN territory since 1986. Injection drug use is alarming with rates of addiction as high as 80 per cent in some communities. Amputation rates due to complications from diabetes are the highest in the province and gaps in child development services mean that children are not being screened and treated for hearing, vision and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Nursing stations and clinics, claims NAN, lack basic diagnostic equipment, “x-ray machines remain in disrepair for years, and basic medications are sometimes not stocked, leading to complications or death.”
The health care transformation process was sparked by the declaration of a public health emergency by NAN and the Sioux Lookout Chiefs Committee on February 24, 2016. That was followed by the signing of a Charter of Relationship Principles Governing Health Care Transformation on July 24, 2017 by then Minister of Health Dr. Jane Philpott, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Dr. Eric Hoskins and NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.
The North East and North West LHINs are both actively involved in discussions relating to the new programs and services.
“Fifty-two per cent of Ontario’s Indigenous communities are in our region,” said Susan Pilatzke, vice-president of health system strategy, integration and planning for the North West LHIN.
“We’re participating in discussions with the Ministry around an engagement strategy for the Indigenous population. We’re doing some work on the calls for proposals that have gone out for the new interprofessional care teams and Indigenous-led mental health and addiction programs. We are facilitating sessions for the stakeholders and we have met with the Department of Indigenous Services to talk about initiatives that we will jointly look at to address the health care transformation agenda.
“Just about every conversation we have, the emphasis is on Indigenous-led programs and services, and self-government,” said Pilatzke. “There are also conversations about an all-First Nations hospital in Kenora, new treatment centres for children and youth and the devolution of responsibility for public health to the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. All of this is happening as a result of the health care transformation agenda.”
Given the momentum to date, there is good reason for optimism.
“We are pleased with the commitments from our federal and provincial treaty partners to transform health systems across NAN territory with our First Nations as full partners,” said Grand Chief Fiddler. “Our communities are in a perpetual state of crisis, and health transformation is the pathway to improving outcomes for our people….we are confident that by working together with leaders, policy makers, health-care administrators and providers we can build a health care system that works for our people.”

Filed in: All Content, News

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