B.C.’s first nations to take health care in their own hands
Aboriginal people in British Columbia will take responsibility for all Health Canada programs delivered to the province’s 203 first nations communities by April, 2013 under the newly created First Nations Health Authority.
To date, 150 first nations communities in the province have already begun administering federal health programs, such as community health nurses, addiction and mental health care programs and elder and youth care.
The First Nations Health Authority, which is the first of its kind in Canada, will now have this responsibility and will work to transfer Health Canada funding and services for the remaining 53 first nations communities away from the federal government to aboriginal communities.
“It’s very exciting. We’re not creating a parallel system. We’re taking responsibility for those health programs delivered by Health Canada,” said Doug Kelly, chair of the First Nations Health Authority.
Four of the five provincial health authorities in B.C. have signed regional partnership accords with the First Nations Health Authority, giving aboriginal people more say in how provincial health services and programs are delivered in their communities.
Kelly said the Interior Health Authority will be the last provincial health authority in B.C. to sign and that will likely happen this fall.
“We’ll be talking about prevention and how do we move from a sickness-based system to turn it on its head and start to do more in prevention and promote activities for good health and well being,” said Kelly.
“We want the best of the modern world of medicine and to have access to our traditional ceremonies and our medicines.”
Another big issue for first nations people — many of whom suffer from chronic health conditions like diabetes, HIV and AIDS or heart conditions — is helping them navigate the health care system, Kelly added.
“Many of our people, when they are told “no” they accept it. They don’t pursue options and they can suffer the consequences. We want to create the space so the regional health authorities provide the care necessary to help our people navigate the system and get better health care.”
The approval to create Canada’s first provincial First Nations Health Authority was given by chiefs at the fifth annual Gathering Wisdom for a Shared Journey forum on May 15 in Vancouver.
Kelly said next steps include establishing regional offices to support health and wellness engagement with first nations and B.C.’s five health authorities.