“Great Spirit we ask you to guide these people,” said Elder Clifford Quaw, opening up the Northern Regional Health Assembly to two days of discussion and information sharing in Prince George on November 13 and 14, 2019 about the First Nations Health Authority’s services to communities.
Elder Quaw’s opening was followed by two songs from the Thundering Eagles, the first calling down the ancestors and the second saying prayers for all.
The first speaker, First Nations Health Council Chairperson Charlene Belleau told the delegates their political leadership in the province had decided to carry out a full external evaluation of their work and governance since the signing of the Tripartite agreement handing over administration of indigenous health services to the nations more than five years ago.
“The first years have been about transfer, now we have a chance to really think about how you want to deliver health care in communities,” said Belleau. “We are going to heal and what we have gone through will make us stronger.”
Interim CEO Richard Jock invited suggestions from First Nations to more fully explore and discuss evaluation outcomes and path forward. The report will be further discussed at Gathering Wisdom 2020 in January.
“The First Nations approaches to health and wellness are now a part of the conversation in the health system,” he said.
Dr. Shannon MacDonald, FNHA’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, then gave a presentation on the opioid crisis that is a concern for many communities in the north. Her central message was that preliminary figures for 2019 show that the number of First Nations overdose deaths in the province is falling thanks to harm reduction efforts, including the 3,000 naloxone kits handed out in the last two years.
She said FNHA’s response is based on 4 pillars: Prevent people from dying; Keep people safe while using; Create an accessible range of treatment options; Support people on their healing journey.
Dr. MacDonald reported that the data shows the measures are having an impact but that there is much work still to do, especially addressing the specific needs of First Nations.
“We don’t have a drug problem, we have a pain problem. This is about trauma,” she said.
FNHA Board Chairperson Colleen Erickson spoke to the recent leadership transition saying that although there is never a perfect time for change, this is an opportunity to rethink and evaluate the organization’s priorities and direction.
The board will work with Mr. Jock on the next steps including succession planning.
A recent external evaluation of the board concluded it is performing well and meeting its obligations as well as being open to change and improvements, she added.
FNHA Board Secretary and Treasurer Norman Thompson presented the financial highlights from the annual report, which included a sixth consecutive clean external audit.
Richard Jock provided an update on the organization’s direction, including regionalization, primary care initiatives and a multi-year investment strategy that is under development.
He updated on regionalization, highlighting the shifting of various programs and services, e.g. EPHS, AHS) to the regions, as well as the development of Regional Executive Directors in each of the regions.
“Regionalization is a priority” he said. He added that part of this would involve the relocations of FNHA offices to First Nations lands where possible.
He also informed the assembly that there will be 15 First Nations-led primary care clinics over the next three years, three per region. These First Nation-led Primary Care programs will improve access to culturally-safe care for indigenous peoples. He added that virtual care and new technologies will be a part of future plans to improve access.
Other changes include more support for communities to plan their own health care based on their needs and helping long-term projects with a multi-annual investment plan that will provide greater flexibility in executing projects.
Regional Executive Director Nicole Cross said the communities have provided her team with the strong direction they need and this will result in more and more investment in wellness, which includes mental health and traditional healing.
She added that the complexities of getting support to communities are vast but working together we are finding new ways of delivering services and care.
“We’re different and we don’t need to fit in other people’s boxes,” she said. “The north really does lead in a lot of our (FNHA’s) work.”John Mah, Vice-president of Health Benefits was the next up at the podium where he began by reporting the completed transition to Pacific Blue Cross as the new claims provider of dental, medical supplies and equipment and vision services. The transition has been a success with more benefits than ever being accessed.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by attendees was difficulties in receiving medical transportation support when needed citing a lengthy and unpleasant appeals process in procedure. Mr. Mah announced that there is a Medical Transportation review under way and new policies and processes will address many of the problems with the system inherited at the time of transfer.
Katie Hughes, Executive Director of Mental Health and Wellness described how the philosophy behind FNHA’s growing mental health and wellness programs is focused on honouring resilience and addressing root causes in ways that are culturally effective.
One of the priorities here is to increase the availability of individual, youth and family-based healing practices that will be more effective for many people suffering from trauma-related issues and addiction.
“You don’t need to look to Western treatment models to design your healing around,” said Karla Tait, Regional Mental Wellness Manager for the Northern Region.
The assembly ended with a traditional closing ceremony to wish the participants a safe voyage home.
Artist and vendor Shirley Babcock working on a piece
A delegate takes in the Assembly
Patricia Hoard was recognized for seven years of service as the First Nations Health Directors Association’s North East rep
Sandra Teegee of Takla Lake speaks on the floor during Day 2 of the Assembly