New health research centre to focus on Indigenous, mental health issues

Sask. mental health funding a start but more support needed, say social worker and chief

The federal government says a new "patient-focused" research centre in Saskatchewan could help close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. 

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Indigenous Canadians have shorter life expectancies, higher rates of diabetes and face more mental health issues, and the new Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research will help stem those trends. 

"To invest in the work that is being done here in Saskatchewan will have a huge impact in the long term," Philpott told reporters in Saskatoon Tuesday. 

"And the focus on Indigenous health and mental health and problematic substance abuse are all top issues in the country." 

Federal and provincial governments will provide funding of about $63 million over five years for the centre — which is a collection of researchers throughout the province. 

Helen Kenyon, the new executive director of the centre, said the money will help get patients involved in the health research process. 

"We are providing research that really makes a difference for patients right from the get go. That's the big difference," Kenyon said.

To start off, the centre's two primary focuses will be mental health and addiction, and health issues facing Indigenous Canadians. 

The idea, according to Philpott, is to get people who are affected by health research involved the process of conducting that research. She said that approach is especially key when it comes to closing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. 

"This kind of research that we are doing to find out what it's going to take to be able to close that gap is absolutely essential," Philpott said.

"It's at the core of what I need to do as health minister." 

Philpott to tour Sask. First Nations

Philpott will also be touring two First Nations during her Saskatchewan trip. The minister will visit Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and Big River First Nation to learn how those communities are fighting HIV and AIDS.

Philpott said those two communities had some of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country. 

Now thanks to innovative programs like Know Your Status, Philpott said the communities have almost got their number of new cases "down to zero."