New IH strategy supports Aboriginal health and wellness

Improved mental wellness, better access, increased collaboration, and building cultural competence are goals outlined in the new Aboriginal Health and Wellness Strategy, approved Tuesday, May 26, 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,” Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement from IH about the new strategy. “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 Chairman Erwin Malzer. “We have a responsibility to ensure equal access and appropriate health services.”
For example, the statement said 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,” Franny Alec, Health Manager, Xaxli’p (Fountain) First Nation (Lillooet area) said in the statement.
The disparities 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
Aboriginal Health – Highlights

  • Letters of Understanding, the most recent and final of which was approved by Interior Health’s Board in March, are considered an essential first step in engaging First Nations and Métis communities and building effective partnerships to work together to address health disparities.
  • The practice of including welcoming spaces and traditional ceremonies at health-care sites allows individuals and their families to stay connected with their culture when they are sick or injured, which can be important for their healing. It also demonstrates recognition and respect for First Nations people and their culture, which helps build trust and confidence.
  • Eight Aboriginal patient navigators work in both acute and community settings to support Aboriginal patients, caregivers, and their families while in the health-care system.
  • A plan to add mental health clinicians and social workers who work with Aboriginal communities has been developed in collaboration with the First Nations Health Authority.
  •  The Aboriginal Self-Identification Initiative (ASI) began in 2011. Patients, clients and staff members are asked whether they self-identify as Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. Identification is completely voluntary. To date nearly 1,000 employees have self-identified as being of Aboriginal, Métis or Inuit descent at Interior Health.
  • Each year Interior Health offers Indigenous Core Competency education through the Provincial Health Services Authority. Since 2009, more than 2,000 employees have completed this online program, which is designed to increase Aboriginal-specific knowledge, enhance individual self-awareness and strengthen skills for professionals working directly or indirectly with Indigenous people.
  •  Six nurse practitioners (NPs) have been hired or are in the process of being hired across Interior Health through the NP4BC initiative to work specifically with Aboriginal populations. They join six other NPs currently supporting Aboriginal clients in the region.