Northwest B.C. officials honing in on aboriginal health care

Conversations have focussed on two groups – senior citizens and women before they give birth to six months after

Health care officials in the region have been talking about ways to better ensure the ongoing well-being of aboriginal people after they return to their home communities from time spent in a health care facility.

And specifically, conversations have focussed on two groups – senior citizens and women before they give birth to six months after.

With aboriginal people making up at least 17 per cent of the northern population, even higher in the northwest, and with the challenge of providing health care in general in smaller and more remote communities, figuring out ways to do things better is necessary, says Chris Simms from the Northern Health Authority.

Based at Mills Memorial Hospital here, Simms, other Northern Health officials, people from community-based health care agencies throughout the region and officials from the First Nations Health Authority have already spent time comparing notes.

Although officials from the Northern Health Authority and First Nations health agencies meet regularly, they gathered at Kitsumkalum last fall to plot out the exact sequence of events when a person leaves a health care facility and returns to a more remote community.

It’s a method called process mapping and Simms said the information gathered will form the basis of renewed efforts at providing health care services.

“What we were looking for was gaps and the information we were sharing is what the service looks like the way it is now and where we were lacking,” he said.

Simms described the provision of health care in remote communities as complex, drawing in issues such as distance from health care centres and cultural considerations.

Even factors such as how a patient, at time of discharge, is going to get home and who will be waiting for them there factor into the planning that does on before a person leaves the hospital, he said.

Nicole Cross, the northern regional director for the First Nations Health Authority, a relatively new agency with responsibility for aboriginal health, said improvements between health care service agencies could very well start with improvements in communication.

“I think we all need to know what our resources are,” said Cross. Although smaller and more remote communities have established community care services, many lack facilities where people can stay and that’s a consideration as health care officials begin looking at improvements, she added.

“There’s a huge interest to keep people close to their home or in their home and in their community,” Cross said. “This is where it’s really important to gather all the information we can.”

Local sessions to trace a person’s progress from discharge back to their home communities is part of a larger effort by the Northern Health Authority, says Dr. Margo Greenwood, its vice president for aboriginal health.

“It’s fair to say this is one of the first processes underway in our region,” she said. “We want a process or strategy so that people have the very best support and care to achieve their individual health.”.

And while people returning to more rural and remote communities after being discharged from a health care facility have specific issues, Greenwood says the health authority is also focused on the growing number of aboriginal people living in larger northern centres.

It’s why, Greenwood says, the health authority also speaks with non profit groups and organizations such as aboriginal friendship centres.