Health Sciences North promises more Indigenous-focused care in Algoma

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Oct. 24, 2023 edition of The Sault Star.

The Maamwesying Ontario Health Team, in partnership with Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services Inc., has signed a new collaboration agreement with Health Sciences North (HSN) to help improve outcomes for Indigenous people living in the Algoma District.

This new agreement, officially approved on Thursday, affirms HSN's commitment to creating culturally safe spaces for Indigenous patients at its various medical facilities located across Northeastern Ontario.

According to Maamwesying media representative Grace Swain, this commitment involves HSN staff adopting new training and best practices, as recommended by Maamwesying members, to create a more welcoming environment for Indigenous patients.

This includes staff placing a larger emphasis on Indigenous identification, so that these specific patients can access culturally-specific resources as quickly as possible.

"Right now, the biggest thing is when Indigenous people are going into hospitals they are not being asked if they identify as Indigenous," Swain said on Friday. "And, essentially, that creates an issue where they're not being connected with Maamwesying, to get access to the right services that they need."

In an accompanying news release, HSN CEO David McNeil said this agreement is a step in the right direction for the provincial healthcare system, which has treated many Indigenous people with hostility and neglect due to centuries of colonization.

"The objectives of this partnership include supporting the acknowledgement of traditional and cultural practices of Indigenous patients and families, implementing anti-racism and harassment policies and delivering cultural safety training for health teams," McNeil said.

"We know we have more work to do on our journey to be socially accountable and this agreement is a huge step in the right direction.”

While Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services Inc. has been servicing Algoma's Indigenous communities for the past three decades, the provincial government approved its request to create a local Ontario Health Team last October.

An Ontario Health Team is responsible for bringing together healthcare providers from across their respective regions as one collaborative unit to better coordinate care and share resources.

Following last fall's announcement, provincial funding was allocated to Maamwesying so its members could integrate healthcare services for Indigenous people living in Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding communities like Thessalon First Nation, Garden River First Nation and Michipicoten First Nation.

Since then, Maamwesying members have been focusing on a variety of priorities, such as improving transition care (from the hospital to a patient's home), enhancing access to digital health tools and reducing the number of non-traumatic lower limb amputations.

"Because for the Indigenous population, unfortunately, they experience a lot of amputations from diabetes and other health concerns," Swain said.

"So we actually have a member of the Maamwesying Ontario Health Team go out to communities and provides training on this to all the individuals within the healthcare system so they can help prevent that."

Through this new collaboration agreement with HSN, Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services CEO Carol Eshkakogan hopes that it will reaffirm the value of Indigenous peoples and their right to self-determination when seeking medical assistance.

"Together, we recognize the collective long-term goal of creating a healthcare system free from racism and discrimination,” she said in an accompanying news release.

While HSN is based in Sudbury, it services half-a-million people across 25 sites in Northeastern Ontario.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government

Kyle Darbyson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sault Star