Northern Health CEO discusses new First Nations Health Authority

Last week, the Federal and BC governments signed an agreement that will give First Nations in British Columbia a direct say in how health services are provided in their communities

Last week, the Federal and BC governments signed an agreement that will give First Nations in British Columbia a direct say in how health services are provided in their communities, by creating a First Nations Health Authority.

The newly-formed First Nations Health Authority will take over responsibility for all the healthcare programs that are already provided specifically to BC First Nations by Health Canada; which will be transferring control and funds for these programs too the health authority. This is intended to give First Nations in BC more control in tailoring medical services that better reflect the needs of their communities. But it won’t be officially taking over until after a two-year transition period.

The First Nation’s health authority will not be replacing the existing health authorities in BC, but instead will have to work with them as partners. In order to offset the complications of having more than one health authority in an areas, a committee with representatives from the First Nations health authority, the existing BC heath authority (such as Northern Health) and  the Provincial Government will also be formed coordinate service delivery between them.

Northern Health says that they have been working with many First Nations groups for years and that the only real difference in how their operations will be to formalize that existing partnership.

“We think that its a real opportunity for us to build on the work that we have already started by partnering with First Nations communities so that our services meet the needs of those communities’ needs both culturally and the health needs that First Nations communities have. Because there is a gap between the health of First Nations people and the heath of the rest of the population,” says Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich.

Prince Rupert’s regional hospital is used as the hub for medical services for many different Aboriginal communities along the North Coast area. Ulrich says that its too early in the process to say what changes will happen in Prince Rupert and the primary focus of the First Nations Health Council – which will be providing leadership to the heath authority — will mostly centre around services delivered inside Aboriginal communities.

“What I think this enables us to do, and this work has already started in Prince Rupert . . . where we work with the health service providers in the First Nations communities to deliver services that meet the needs of everybody, both inside the hospital as well as some services like addictions and mental health services treatment,” says Ulrich.

One of the things that the First Nations Health Council will be able to do integrate First Nations culture and traditional knowledge into the medical treatment of aboriginal people. Ulrich says that what this means will differ between the customs and beliefs of different First Nations in BC. But, she says there are many ways Aboriginal Culture can be integrated into the hospital;.

“For example in a hospital setting, there are traditions related to birthing, there are traditions related to when somebody passes away that we need to work with First Nation communities on how those traditions can be incorporated,” says Ulrich.

Ulrich says that the partnership between the health authorities will be an important  part of finding an appropriate balance between the needs of traditional cultures and with those of modern medicine.