First Nations in Alberta to assess prospect of delivering surgical care in their communities

·3 min read

The Kenney government is inviting First Nations in Alberta to join the province in delivering increased surgical care for Albertans.

On Nov. 6 at a press conference on Tsuut’ina territory, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that Tsuut’ina Nation, Enoch Cree Nation, Maskwacis Bands, Bigstone Cree Nation, Blood Tribe and Siksika Nation would each receive $50,000 from the Alberta government to help the nations develop proposals for chartered surgical facilities that could offer publicly-funded surgeries to people on and off reserve.

“I’m so pleased that six First Nations representing all three treaty areas in Alberta have stepped forward to explore the potential to help reduce wait times for surgery in Alberta,” said Shandro.

The Health minister said his top priority was to decrease wait time for elective surgeries.

“We have to fix this problem and give every patient care that they need when they need it and that’s why I’m so pleased that the First Nations and other innovative thinkers have come forward to work with us to be part of the solution here in Alberta,” he said.

Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot said he was confident his nation’s health service could step up to the challenge. He said it has been “put to the test” with the coronavirus pandemic and had delivered.

“Building upon this foundation, it is with confidence and gratitude that we will support and participate in Alberta surgical wait time initiative, not just for our own people but for the benefit of all living in Alberta.

“First Nations make excellent partners in health care with the focus on providing holistic care and draw from our traditional models of wellness and cultural values to promote strength and resilience for our people. By taking part in opportunities such as this, it gives us a tool to move forward for future generations in mind. Together we will accomplish the collective goal of health equity,” said Crowfoot.

Tsuut’ina Nation Chief Roy Whitney Onespot said that participating in such an initiative provided opportunity for youth on the nation.

In considering the initiative, Whitney Onespot said he “saw an opportunity for our youth to be trained and find work as health professionals alongside professionals in Calgary and area in facilities on our nation.”

He said these young people would be mentored by healthcare professionals and then later those same youth would mentor other youth on the Tsuut’ina Nation.

“(This is) part of our nation’s plan to build and manage our future in health care,” said Whitney Onespot.

Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson noted the economic benefits of such a partnership between the provincial government and the First Nations.

“Having surgical suites in First Nations opens new possibilities for better access to health care while bringing jobs and the spin-off economic benefits to communities. It is another step on a path to shared prosperity and reconciliation,” he said.

The First Nations will use the government grants to complete a needs assessment and business case to determine if a chartered surgical facility would be a good fit for their communities. The funds will also enable them to secure professional and contractor services. This will help them identify investors and partnerships to help position them to submit proposals to contract with Alberta Health Services to provide publicly funded surgeries, said an Alberta Health news release.

Shandro said Alberta Health Services (AHS) is expected to post its first formal requests for proposals for chartered surgical facilities by the end of the year.

Currently 43 chartered surgical facilities work under contract with AHS to provide publicly funded surgeries in the fields of ophthalmology, dermatology, ear, nose and throat, oral and maxillofacial surgery, gynecology, and reconstructive plastic surgery. AHS is currently operating at almost 90 per cent of pre-COVID surgical volume compared with the low of 40 per cent early in the pandemic.

Shandro said that by next summer AHS hoped to be performing surgeries up to 150 per cent of pre-COVID capacity. He said that target was subject to pressures imposed by the continuing pandemic.


By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CJWE