New strategy supports Aboriginal health and wellness

Improved mental wellness, better access, increased collaboration, building cultural competence goals set

Improved mental wellness, better access, increased collaboration, and building cultural competence are goals outlined in the new Aboriginal Health and Wellness Strategy, approved yesterday by Interior Health’s Board of Directors.

“We’ve seen great progress in our work to support innovative, culturally appropriate patient-centered care that meets the needs of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples across the province,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “Interior Health’s strategy is an example of this collaborative work and will help set a path to further enhance the health and wellness of Aboriginal people in this region.”

The document sets the path for Interior Health to work with First Nations and Métis partners on improving health outcomes for the approximately 50,000 Aboriginal people living within the Interior Health region.

“Everyone has unique health needs but, as this document points out, the needs of the Aboriginal population within Interior Health are markedly different than the rest of our population,” said Interior Health Board Chair Erwin Malzer. “We have a responsibility to ensure equal access and appropriate health services.”

For example, individuals of Aboriginal ancestry have higher rates of mental illness than the general population (approximately 16 per cent compared to eight per cent) while they have lower rates of cardiovascular disease (approximately six per cent compared to 13 per cent).

The document follows the principle that health care touches people at all stages of life including: staying healthy, getting better, living with illness and coping with end of life. Services provided at these various stages must all meet Aboriginal people’s needs. The four priority areas identified in the strategy are: advancement of cultural competency within Interior Health; ensuring meaningful participation of the Aboriginal population in health care planning and decision making; improving health equity; and improving mental wellness for Aboriginal people.

“In order to safely and effectively provide patient care and preserve patient dignity, health-care professionals should be aware and respectful of the cultural differences they have with their patients, and have a willingness to learn more about cultural beliefs and values of their patients to achieve this,” said Franny Alec, Health Manager, Xaxli’p (Fountain) First Nation (Lillooet area).

“The disparities we see in health and wellness and in access and service exist for many reasons. Some are historical, some are geographical, and some are cultural,” said Aboriginal Health Program Director Bradley Anderson, who presented the strategy to Interior Health’s Board of Directors. “The good news is that Interior Health and other organizations recognize these challenges and are proactively reaching out to communities and Aboriginal leaders, working together towards a truly equitable system.”

The Aboriginal Health and Wellness Strategy was developed in partnership with First Nations, Métis, Urban service providers, the First Nations Health Authority, the Interior Health Aboriginal Health team, and others within Interior Health. The document is now posted on Interior Health’s web site under Aboriginal Health at www.interiorhealth.ca.