In an effort to provide better care, the Horizon Health Network has created a new role of Indigenous patient navigator.
The role was conceived through years of consultation with First Nation stakeholders.
Shyanne Tatton is one of two navigators hired in April to work at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton.
She said its a role she and her family would have appreciated when her grandmother fell ill and had to be admitted to hospital.
"There were some barriers that we faced ... Something that an Indigenous patient navigator would have really been able to help our family with. Things like coordinating services, from the health centre on the reserve, getting her traditional medicines in facility and even just having a talking ear to be there for her."
That's an experience Tatton holds with her as she carries out her work.
An average day consists of anything from receiving referrals for inpatients, informing patients on care options and community engagement.
That engagement is important in building trust and Tatton recalls a time when her presence persuaded an Indigenous woman to seek further care.
"She was a little bit closed off to me at first and I was a little bit worried about that coming into this position, because you don't know what kind of situations you'll face. But then to know that she did open up and she was very receptive of what I could do and how I could help ... that was a real big honour."
Creation of the role
Aaron Hatty is a nurse and became Indigenous relations coordinator with Horizon last September.
She said the navigator role has been created in multiple provinces, like British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario and came into existence in New Brunswick after years of consultation.
"Our program itself is largely informed by our Indigenous liaison committee. So that's made up of health leaders in each First Nations communities that fall under Horizon."
Hatty added that while Horizon hired navigators, this initiative was directed by what First Nations and Elders said needed to be addressed in health care.
With two navigators in place, there are now plans to expand the program.
Hatty said, "We're really collecting a lot of data in terms of activity ... as well as keeping track of some of the ways that we have helped people to hopefully expand this program in the future to other facilities, for instance, the emergency room."
She added different types of navigators are being sought based on need.
"Maybe somebody who's worked at a health centre for years and years and years, they may not be a social worker, but they're very familiar with the programming and very familiar with the people and the priority for the navigator is the patients themselves."
Hatty said there is work underway to also bring the role into hospitals under the Vitalité Health Network.
During her time as a nurse, Hatty said it was often difficult to ensure cultural and spiritual needs were being met when the health-care system was already being pushed.
But with the creation of this role, Hatty said it's a step toward tackling systemic racism and making sure Indigenous patients receive lifesaving care in a respectful way.