KELOWNA – A significant milestone was reached last week when Interior Health’s Board of Directors approved the last of eight health agreements supporting Aboriginal populations living in the B.C. Interior.
The board gave support to a Letter of Understanding with the Ulkatcho First Nation, the seventh First Nation government to enter into a formal relationship with the health authority. IH also has a Letter of Understanding with the Métis Nation BC.
“These Letters of Understanding create a strong link between Interior Health and Aboriginal leaders to share decisions on initiatives to improve health outcomes for First Nations and Aboriginal people,” said Health Minister Terry Lake. “This work builds on our commitment to provide culturally safe, holistic and accessible health services for First Nations and Aboriginal people.”
Ulkatcho is part of the Dakelh Dené Nation, located northwest of Williams Lake. About 730 of the 930 band members live on reserve, while another 200 live off reserve. The LoU will be formally signed by representatives of IH and the Ulkatcho Nation at a later ceremony held on Ulkatcho traditional territory. These historic signing ceremonies celebrate the LoU relationships, which guide both parties toward the identification of common goals for equitable access to health services and improved programs.
“Interior Health Board of Directors is pleased to support relationship-building opportunities that will help eliminate the health disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” said IH Board Chair Erwin Malzer. “The signing of the LoUs represents an important commitment to work collaboratively toward enhancing health programs and services for First Nations people.”
IH CEO and President Dr. Robert Halpenny acknowledged the difficult history First Nations people have encountered within the health system.
“These Letters of Understanding guide us in ensuring we have culturally appropriate health services for Aboriginal populations,” said Dr. Halpenny.
He noted that in collaboration with First Nation leaders, Interior Health has made a number of significant strides toward removing health barriers for Aboriginal people.
Specific actions include 12 nurse practitioners hired to work directly with First Nations communities; eight Aboriginal Patient Navigators supporting Aboriginal patients, caregivers, and their families while in the health-care system; and the incorporation of First Nation culture in health facilities through art, sacred spaces, welcome signs, and cultural ceremonies.
Aboriginal Health Director Brad Anderson says the Letters of Understanding are essential first steps toward developing trusting relationships that will close the health status gaps that exist for Aboriginal people.
“Ensuring First Nation leaders have meaningful participation in health-care decisions and services that impact their communities and populations is a high priority for Interior Health’s Aboriginal Health team members,” said Anderson.
Interior Health has also signed Letters of Understanding with Tsilhqot’in, Secwepemc, Northern St’at’imc, Okanagan Nation Alliance, Nlaka’pamux, Ktunaxa, and BC Métis nations.