Fraser Salish Leaders come together to improve health outcomes for Fraser Salish Nations


From November 18-20, 2019, political and health leadership from Fraser Salish Nations gathered for the 2019 Fraser Salish Health Assembly at Cheam First Nation, near Chilliwack. Ninety-seven Chiefs, proxies, and Health Leads attended the three-day event.





Elder Virginia Peters welcomed delegates to the territory and opened the event with ceremonial song and prayer. Cheam First Nation Councilor Rick Quipp welcomed leaders and looked forward to an open dialogue about ways to improve healing through culture for their people.

The first speaker, First Nations Health Council (FNHC) representative Grand Chief Doug Kelly, gave an update and background on recent changes within the health council. These include the appointment of Charlene Belleau to replace Doug Kelly as Chair and Les Doiron to replace Allan Louis as Vice-Chair. Doug Kelly also explained that the FNHC would undergo an evaluation, which would include reviewing its partnership with the regional health authorities and the Tripartite Agreement.


FNHA Board Chair Colleen Erickson spoke about the recent transition to new leadership at FNHA. She acknowledged that there is never a perfect time for change. The FNHA Board will work with Interim CEO Richard Jock on next steps and finding a permanent CEO. Erickson believes this is an opportunity to re-evaluate FNHA's priorities and vision.

Erickson also noted that an independent audit of the FNHA Board was recently completed. The report concluded that the Board is meeting its expectations and performing well.

Norman Thompson, FNHA Board Secretary and Treasurer, outlined the financial highlights from FNHA's annual report and indicated that FNHA is in a good financial state.

Richard Jock provided an update on FNHA's direction, including regionalization, a multi-year investment strategy that is under development, and primary care initiatives.

Jock noted that regionalization has led to 40 staff positions being located in the Fraser Salish regional office, the creation of executive directors in each region, and the shift of multiple programs and services to the regional level.

He informed delegates of plans that are underway to develop a multi-year investment strategy so that communities have predictability. Allocation strategies that are needs-based will be considered as the existing model often favours larger communities, he added.

Jock also announced 15 First Nations-led primary health centers in BC, three in each region, over the next three years. These health centers will provide culturally safe care to Indigenous clients.

Megan Hunt, FNHA Director of Primary Care, spoke in depth about plans to expand First Nations-led primary health care that is holistic and integrated.

“First Nations communities have a long-standing, successful history of providing team-based, holistic health care services," she said. “We know that we are well-positioned to continue to lead, transform, guide and implement strong, integrated, and culturally-safe primary health care services."

Regional Executive Director Michelle DeGroot presented a fulsome story about the Fraser Salish region, including history, priority areas, partnerships and investments.

“Our regionalization approach, in combination with the new resources in primary care and mental health, will lead to more meaningful services and partnership activities that directly benefit our Fraser Salish communities," said Michelle DeGroot.

“We will continue our efforts and we are fully anticipating serving our communities in increasingly integrated ways – ways that will truly reflect our local needs and distinctions," she added.

Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA's Chief Medical Officer, presented on the opioid crisis, which is a major concern for First Nations in BC. He told delegates that there is some good news: the preliminary data for 2019 indicates that overdose deaths are decreasing. Overdose events, however, are as high as always and First Nations women continue to be overrepresented in the data, he added.

Dr. Adams also shared that over 90 per cent of First Nations overdose deaths occur in eight urban centers. He reported that FNHA is refocusing its response to this crisis accordingly. 

Next, the Health Benefits team spoke to leaders about the transition to Pacific Blue Cross (PBC). Community Relations Manager Andrea Oberdieck reported on the extensive communications campaign to encourage clients to sign up and get a PBC account. Over 9,000 people registered between mid-September and mid-November. Andrew Pacey, Director of Analytics and Financial Management, reported an eight per cent increase in health benefits expenditures for the Fraser Salish region. The average increase percent across BC is five per cent.

James Lascelle and James Delorme of FNHA's Health Benefits Community Relations team did a live demo on how to navigate a Pacific Blue Cross member profile online. Many people in the crowd had positive comments about the app and asked lots of questions.

Katie Hughes, FNHA's Executive Director of Mental Health and Wellness, explained that honouring resiliency and addressing the root causes of trauma are the cornerstones of FNHA's approach and growing investment in mental health and wellness initiatives that are culturally safe. In 2019/20, FNHA increased its investment in mental health and wellness to $97M, up from $82M the year prior. The increased investment includes a new focus on life promotion and support for youth.

Inez Louis of Stó:lō Service Agency Health Services gave a compelling presentation about ancestral foods. She believes that if we honour traditional foods and how our Elders have taught us to eat (and by adapting if we don't have access to traditional foods), we can heal from chronic illness and prevent it in future generations.

Lively Q & A was a hallmark of the gathering. Topics of interest included the FNHA regionalization model, availability of Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) at First Nations treatment centres, support for emergency management, and the transition to Pacific Blue Cross as FNHA's new partner in delivering dental, vision, and medical supplies and equipment benefits – to name a few.


The final day of the Fraser Salish Health Assembly began and ended with ceremony – singing and drumming led by Chief Ralph Leon of Sts'ailes First Nation. Rick Quipp, Cheam First Nation Council Member, gave heartfelt thanks to health directors for their dedication and good work.​





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