Chief Paul-Émile Ottawa, of the Manawan Atikamekw Council, told reporters on Thursday that he's seen a significant improvement at the Lanaudière health board since the death of Joyce Echaquan in September 2020.
Ottawa has worked closely with the president and executive director of the CISSS de Lanaudière, Maryse Poupart, since she took on the position in April.
Ottawa described her as a "woman of action," saying that she has "an excellent reputation in Manawan."
He serves as co-chair of the CISSS's reconciliation committee alongside Poupart, and said during a news conference with her that he is "satisfied" with the work being done to improve relations between the Atikamekw community and the health network in the region.
Ottawa said that he was pleased with the spirit of collaboration expressed by Poupart and the administrative team, saying that this kind of co-operation between his community and the health board never existed before.
He said that communication is much better and gave the example of the months of negotiation it took to finally get access to ambulance services in Manawan in 2017, saying an issue like that could be resolved much more quickly today.
For her part, Poupart said she is committing to moving forward "hand-in-hand," developing solutions to problems highlighted by the community as well as the recommendations identified in the coroner's report into Echaquan's death.
"I said publicly when I was there a few weeks ago: 'The community in Manawan has the right to the same care as other communities in Lanaudière,'" she said.
Poupart said some of the recommendations made in coroner Géhane Kamel's report have already been implemented and the CISSS has plans to do much more.
They have already hired two new Indigenous liaison officers who have offices in the emergency room so that community members can easily approach them for help.
An assistant director in charge of Indigenous relations has also been hired out of Manawan, and Poupart says she's currently in the process of hiring a new complaints officer from the Atikamekw community.
Several kinds of training have also been developed in collaboration with the community in Manawan and the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
Poupart said that 12,000 employees, about 70 per cent of the staff, have already taken part in one element of the training, which she described as a conference. Another training, which was launched in June, has been given to 5,000 employees, she said.
In her report, Kamel made eight recommendations to the CISSS.
Among them, she advised the health authority to ensure that liaison officers are well-integrated, update the collaboration protocol between the Manawan dispensary and the local hospital so that medical information is transmitted in real time and organize training and inclusion activities on Indigenous culture.
Kamel also instructed the CISSS to make sure it was respecting nurse and patient attendant ratios set by the province, which Poupart says they are now doing.
The global recommendation of Kamel's report was that the Quebec government recognize the existence of systemic racism in the health-care network.
When asked if the CISSS de Lanaudière was willing to publicly recognize it, despite the premier's refusal to do so, Poupart said that she would not debate definitions when it comes to the terminology, but did say that racism and prejudice need to be eliminated.
She said as part of her efforts, the CISSS will be launching a recruitment campaign to integrate workers from the Manawan community into the health network.
"Seeing people who come from the community, it has a comforting effect," she said.