Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and other First Nation leaders are looking forward to increased medical services after Ontario announced its $222 million First Nations Health Action Plan.
“I’m hoping (community members) will see some immediate change as a result of what was announced here today, for example to see increased doctor visits at the community level, to see increased nursing coverage and to begin to also address issues on a longer term, Elder care for example,” Fiddler says after the May 25 announcement at Anishnawbe Mushkiki Thunder Bay Aboriginal Health Centre. “I am encouraged by what was announced here and I think the key for us is to ensure that NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation) is involved in how this is all rolled out.”
Eric Hoskins, minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announced about $222 million in funding over three years to ensure Indigenous people have access to more culturally appropriate care and improved outcomes, with a focus on the north where there are significant gaps in health services.
“Our government is taking action to make a real difference in First Nations communities by addressing urgent health care needs and improving access to care,” Hoskins says. “This investment demonstrates to the people of Ontario that our government is committed to ensuring First Nations communities have equitable access to health care no matter where they live. We will continue working together with First Nations partners to address the social determinants of health and achieve sustainable and lasting change.”
The provincial government plans to implement and evaluate the plan in close partnership with Indigenous partners. Plans call for an investment of $72.2 million over three years for primary care; $44.1 million for public health and health promotion; $45.3 million for senior’s care and hospital services; and $60 million for life promotion and crisis support.
“It’s not going to be a uniform rollout — there’s going to be a lot of work that will take place so we’re going to have to figure out where’s the most need,” says Regional Chief Isadore Day, noting pressing issues such as diabetes, mental health and addictions. “Over the longer term, I’m more interested in the way the health care system is transforming in this country and in the province of Ontario. So today’s investment is a good step forward, but there is a lot of work ahead.”
The primary health care investment includes an increase in physician services by more than 2,641 more days for 28 First Nation communities across the Sioux Lookout region; the establishment of a new, culturally appropriate primary health care team in the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority; the establishment with partners of up to 10 new or expanded primary care teams that include traditional healing; and the delivery of Indigenous cultural competency training to front-line health care workers who work with First Nation communities.
“We always go back to how the funding is going to impact access for people at the community level and I like what I am hearing,” says Sol Mamakwa, health advisor at NAN. “But I’d like to see what I am hearing. I think it is really critical, if it is physician days or if it is better access to nurses or better access to drugs that our children and youth and people need. It’s the beginning of a process, a bigger system change, so I think that is what it is — it’s a beginning.”
The public health and health promotion investment includes support for SLFNHA’s Approaches to Community Wellbeing public health model; expansion of the Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program to about 13,000 more Indigenous children in northern and remote communities; and work with Indigenous partners to review and address gaps in diabetes services.
The seniors care and hospital services investment includes $1 million for more hospital beds for seniors care at Meno Ya Win Health Centre; increased funding to the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority for capital planning; and designated funding for work with Indigenous partners to expand home and community care services for Indigenous communities across the province, including on-reserve.
The life promotion and crisis support investment includes expansion of supports, including trauma response teams, suicide prevention training, youth recreation/cultural programs and mental health workers in schools, to help communities prevent crisis or manage a crisis should they experience one; and expansion of access to telemedicine to help connect individuals in crisis with appropriate clinical supports.
“I think it’s going to do a lot for our communities,” says Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. “(But) we’re going to await the action. Chief Moonias of Neskantaga always stresses the importance of these announcements and the transition to the actual action on the community level. So I’ll be looking forward to seeing the changes within the community. That is our main focus right now.”
The provincial government also plans to follow up the three-year investment with $104.5 million in sustained annual funding to address health inequities and improve access to culturally appropriate health services over the long term.
“Today’s investment will help to improve health, healing and wellness for Indigenous people,” says David Zimmer, minister of Aboriginal Affairs. “By working closely with First Nations partners, this will help meet the needs of their communities through culturally appropriate services and programs. This is an important step in Ontario’s journey to reconciliation and will create a better future for everyone in this province.”
Fiddler says the challenge moving forward is to ensure the federal government provides adequate infrastructure funding for clean drinking water and other services in the communities.
“In order for communities to be able to sustain their own programs and services like dialysis, they need clean water,” Fiddler says. “We need to work towards getting our communities off boil water advisories.”
Some NAN communities have been under water advisories for many years, including Neskantaga for the past two decades.