Pilot projects showcase positive impacts on Indigenous health outcomes

“Then they can have that comfort of knowing that there’s somebody advocating for them already, or helping their family members”

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Initiatives that are improving the health outcomes for Indigenous people in Alberta were celebrated at an event in Downtown Edmonton Wednesday.

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Pathways – Indigenous Health Collaborations builds relationships between Indigenous communities, the private sector and other partners through health pilot projects, through a partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim Canada, Indigenous consultancy firm Bimaadzwin, and Indigenous health policy leaders.

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The innovative pilot projects are a way of addressing health outcomes that aren’t always necessarily through traditional forms of government funding of Indigenous health, said Amanda Meawasige, a member of Pathways’ Indigenous advisory council and director of community engagement and inter-governmental relations, First Nations health and social secretariat of Manitoba.

“Oftentimes, Indigenous people aren’t always introduced to industry and industry isn’t always certain on how to enter our communities and how to build those relationships,” she said.

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She said it’s the hope that through the Pathways partnerships that respectful, reciprocal relationships are formed between Indigenous communities and external partners.

“It’s a matter of opening that dialogue and creating that space for people to talk to each other safely,” Meawasige said.

Attendees heard of three pilot projects ongoing in Alberta. The Maple Maskwacis Virtual Health Service is providing virtual care to residents of Maskwacis where they can more easily access a physician or mental health therapist from home.

Stew Schmidt, general manager of the Maskwacis Ambulance Authority, told attendees that nearly 200 people have been reached by the service.

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He said paramedics who are taking someone to the hospital will share with patients about the virtual program and download the app for them during the ride.

“We’ve got a 30-minute drive, so we can tangibly do something,” he said. “It’s great to talk about the Oilers and all these different things on the way to the hospital but we feel like we were actually doing something.”

Another pilot project will see emergency medical responder training for members of the Métis Settlements of Alberta. The training will be accessible to anyone living in the community, community fire and rescue or first responders, and community leaders and elders.

Kathy Lepine, chairwoman of the Metis Settlements Health Board, said there have been issues with ambulance teams getting lost because they don’t know where they are going on the settlement. Sometimes community members will wait for the ambulance and direct them in, or they will take the sick individually to the hospital to receive care.

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Training community members will be a big asset, Lepine said.

“Then they can have that comfort of knowing that there’s somebody advocating for them already, or helping their family members,” she said.

For Meawasige, she hopes there is further uptake on these pilot projects.

“These projects can be duplicated in other regions. They can be scaled up, they can be tailored to the different diverse communities that exist across this country,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, I think the ultimate goal for all of us is how do we make Indigenous communities healthy? How do we build on that strength of Indigenous communities and how can we engage partners to help us do that.”

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