Alberta's physician regulator commits to 'meaningful change' for Indigenous patients

·4 min read
Siksika Nation, Siksika Health Services and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta joined together for a meeting May 3. (Siksika Health Communications - image credit)
Siksika Nation, Siksika Health Services and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta joined together for a meeting May 3. (Siksika Health Communications - image credit)

When people from Siksika Nation try to seek healthcare, they can face racist remarks, their pain can be disregarded or they're unfairly targeted by security, according to Sam Crowfoot, board chair of Siksika Health Services.

In many cases, people will choose not to seek help when it's needed.

Some will even avoid certain hospitals.

"When you have medical emergencies, those minutes and those extra travel times really add up," he said in an interview with CBC Calgary News at 6.

"It can really lead to poor health outcomes, and so people are really kind of scared and being very critical and very choosy when they choose to go to the hospital."

The comments from Siksika members were addressed in a historic meeting May 3, when Siksika Nation hosted Siksika Health Services and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), the regulator for physicians in the province. It's the first time they've met to discuss the challenges Indigenous people face when accessing healthcare in Alberta.

All parties have never come together in an official capacity, said Stacey Strilchuk, president of the governing council for the CPSA, but she hopes the conversations will continue.

"We do have a responsibility to recognize the role that Canada's health care system has played to date in perpetuating systemic racism," she said.

"We're looking to hold ourselves accountable and to take action and to learn and to listen, and we are committed to lasting and meaningful change."

Siksika Health Communications
Siksika Health Communications

In March, Siksika Nation announced it would collect stories from Indigenous members of the community about discrimination while accessing health care.

In addition to the comments about how they've been treated, respondents have pointed to facilities in Strathmore, Vulcan and Calgary as those where they've faced racist behaviour. But Crowfoot added he does not want to paint all medical professionals with the same brush.

"Oftentimes it's only a few individuals who are giving us negative treatment," he said.

"It's not these entire hospitals and some of these hospitals have reached out to us to help make things better. And that's what we're looking forward to, is repairing the relationship moving forward."

WATCH | Siksika Health Services describes how they're working towards better health care for Indigenous people in Alberta

For its part, Alberta Health Services (AHS) says racism has no place at their facilities, and its striving to improve its systems so people feel safe.

"By creating meaningful relationships and listening to Indigenous communities, we are confident that we can create partnerships that improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people together," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"AHS has met with Siksika Nation to discuss their concerns and is committed to working with them for the benefit and health care of all people."

Health care outcomes for Indigenous people

Poor treatment of Indigenous patients is becoming better documented.

Earlier this year, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed hospital emergency rooms in the province are more likely to assess the complaints of First Nations people as less urgent than those from other patients, even when their problems are the same.

A number of high-level meetings have been held to look at the issue, including a report from the anti-racism advisory council and a two-day virtual summit.

The death of Joyce Echaquan in 2020 also called attention to the problem. Shortly before she died, the mother of seven released a video showing health-care staff at a hospital north of Montreal hurling racist remarks at her.

Speakers at the Siksika Nation meeting also shared their own stories of racism and discrimination with CPSA members.

"It's difficult to hear those stories. It's difficult for us to be there with them and to have them articulate those lived experiences," Strilchuk said.

"I do feel it's important for us to understand that we don't have all the answers and that we need to seek out the guidance."

The CPSA appointed Siksika Health Services CEO Tyler White to their council last year. They've also created an Indigenous Advisory Circle to provide recommendations on culturally appropriate care.

To solve these problems once and for all, partnerships like the ones being formed with the CPSA need to be prioritized, Crowfoot said.

"They understand that there's a problem," Crowfoot said.

"We want to make sure that there's cultural competency in the intake when our people come into the emergency room."

The two groups plan to continue working together over the coming months to come up with solutions.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Crowfoot said.

"You can't help but have hope."

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