The FNHA and Province of BC Partner to Support Indigenous, Rural and Remote Communities during COVID-19


Image via BC Government Flickr

A new collaborative framework will help ensure that people living in Indigenous and rural and remote communities in BC have access to health care options that meet their unique needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“During the pandemic, access to culturally appropriate quality care for our most vulnerable BC First Nations - especially our remote and isolated First Nations - is critical," said Charlene Belleau, chair of the First Nations Health Council. “New resources on expanded COVID-19 testing and options for isolation and medical transportation will ensure that no one is left behind. We honour the collaboration with our BC provincial partners that has made this new framework possible."

The framework was developed through a partnership between the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), Northern Health and Provincial Health Services Authority. The work is guided by the principles of cultural safety and humility and adds to work underway by the Rural Coordination Centre of BC.

The framework will be implemented through full engagement with local leaders from each community and will provide flexibility so that it can adapt to meet their unique needs.

“People living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities have unique challenges in accessing the health care they need," said Premier John Horgan. “This new collaborative framework will bring immediate relief to these communities, including a commitment to moving patients to the critical care they need at a moment's notice. This will help our work to stop the spread of COVID-19, while supporting better health outcomes into the future."

The framework outlines immediate actions to improve health-care services and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

 improved medical transportation options to larger centres, including flight and ambulance; 

 access to the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day, a program that connects First Nations people and their family members to a doctor using videoconferencing;

 new and faster COVID-19 testing technology;

 culturally safe contact tracing that respects privacy in small communities;

 housing options for people looking to self-isolate near their families while remaining in their home communities;

 options for accommodation near larger centres with more medical services; and

 ​increased mental-health supports in communities.

“The rapid deployment of the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day technology and partnership with groups like the Rural Coordination Centre of BC is an example of how technology can provide real solutions for our more vulnerable communities by delivering fast and effective primary health care where it is needed," said Richard Jock, interim CEO of the FNHA.

“This addresses both the urgent short-term responses needed to support communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary long-term upgrades to health-care access for rural First Nations populations," said Colleen Erickson, board chair of the FNHA.

Local leadership will determine how these services operate in their communities, with the priority being to ensure that community members can make informed choices about how they receive care.

As part of this initiative, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has prepared an additional 55 ground ambulances for its fleet throughout the province. In addition, BCEHS has prepared seven fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for medical transport. 

The faster testing methods underway include GeneXpert test kits, which take less than 45 minutes to complete, which are already being used by the FNHA and other health authorities. A priority was given to more rural and remote sites where the instruments for testing are already in place. More GeneXpert instruments will arrive in the coming weeks.

Learn More:

Read the news release from the Province of BC here:

The Virtual Doctor of the Day adds to the existing telehealth program that connects people in Northern Health communities with out-of-town health-care providers over a smartphone, computer or tablet. First Nations people can access Virtual Doctor of the Day online:

Temporary changes to the FNHA's medical transportation benefits in response to COVID-19:

How to Access Mental Health Services Using Telehealth:

To use the online COVID-19 self-assessment tool or to download the app, visit:

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