Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 18: Health (18-24)

GBPH explores new ground to partner with Indigenous community

December 1, 2023

NationTalk: GREY-BRUCE, The Canadian Press – The local health unit is looking into ways of strengthening the relationship between public health and the Indigenous community.

One of those ways involves exploring a rarely-used piece of legislation; another would mean building a bridge with other local boards.

Discussion began with Dr. Rim Zayed’s report on the opioid crisis, which included an update on opioid-related deaths, overdoses and the SOS team. However, the section on prevention elicited the most interest from the board.

Zayed described intervention through the Healthy Baby Healthy Children team, and through the hospital. She noted there’s an agreement in the works with the Indigenous community regarding the Healthy Baby Healthy Children program.

Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, provided additional information. He said he’d had discussions with board member and provincial appointee, Nick Saunders, representing the Indigenous community, about the possibility of a formal agreement between the health unit and that community, regarding provision of services. There is a provision for such an agreement in Ontario’s Health Promotion and Protection Act, section 50. Such an agreement would probably take some time, Arra said, noting the section is rarely used and little known.

Arra also spoke about more immediate ways of “helping the cause” through a liaison with other boards. At one time a member of the Grey Bruce Health Centre board sat on the GBPH board as a guest (non-voting member).

Board member Helen-Clair Tingling said she’d like to move forward with both initiatives, and recommended Saunders as the representative for other boards.

Arra said, “We have to connect with the Ministry (of Health) and see how long this process would take,” and that he’d bring a full proposal with timelines to the board.

Arra explained provision of health services is not a provincial responsibility, or a health unit responsibility – it is the responsibility of the band council, with federal funding. Section 50 of the Health Promotion and Protection Act allows a more formal relationship than is the case at present. The local health unit has a positive relationship with the Indigenous community and supports it, he said. But a formal agreement would allow more.

Board member Luke Charbonneau, Saugeen Shores mayor, asked Saunders what the feeling is among the First Nations, given the suspicion many members of the community have for hospitals and public health.

Saunders said, “This will have to go to the table for sure with our First Nation… This is all new.” He did speak of opening lines of communication and bridge building.

“Even with hospitals, there’s a long way to go,” he said, speaking of being denied proper access, especially with mental health and addiction issues. “Something like this… could actually be a stepping stone to bridging, and building a better future.”

Charbonneau replied that from that, it sounds like this would be the way to go. However, he stressed the need to take the necessary time to “do it the right way and build trust.”

Board chair Alan Barfoot said it has taken since 2017 to get Indigenous representation on the board, with Saunders.

Saunders had a further comment to make, that program funding often doesn’t take into consideration the fact that many members live off-reserve, meaning that the programs are underfunded. This includes every aspect of life, including housing. He went on to say that if this goes forward, and the reserve accepts it, “with Dr. Arra’s mentorship and guidance,” this could be the start to “balance out the scales. We have to start somewhere in order to move things forward.”

The liaison initiative would involve discussion with the hospital board, Arra said.

Board member Ken Craig, Kincardine mayor, said he liked the overall picture, but suggested deferring any vote until the board receives the staff recommendation. The board voted in favour of deferral.

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter The Walkerton Herald Times

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.