Enhancing Indigenous Health through partnership
by Maryanne Matthews
Indigenous people in our community are sicker than non-Indigenous people. One reason for this is access to culturally safe primary care. Stronger links between primary care (family physicians, nurse practitioners) and acute care (hospital) can help. That’s why Anishnawbe Mushkiki Community Health and Wellness and Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre are working together.
“We initially met to better understand each other’s role in the community, and quickly realized the potential to enhance care and experiences for Indigenous patients,” said Jean Bartkowiak, Hospital President & CEO.
Anishnawbe Mushkiki Executive Director Michael Hardy was immediately encouraged by the opportunity. “We can be even more responsive to Indigenous needs, values and preferences,” he said. “We can break down the silos between health care sectors and providers to ensure seamless transitions for patients. We will truly be working together to provide patient and family centred care across the continuum of care.”
Anishnawbe Mushkiki is an Indigenous-led Primary Health Care Organization. Their health care team includes physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses including footcare and wound care specialist, dietitians, diabetes educators, social workers, traditional healers and other health care professionals.
At Anishnawbe Mushkiki, clients can access a variety of services, including clinical care and integrated chronic disease prevention and management, family-focused maternal and child health care, addictions counselling, traditional healing, counselling, youth empowerment and cultural programs.
Working more closely together can address current disparities affecting the urban Indigenous population in Thunder Bay. For example, some patients who visit the Hospital Emergency Department (ED) could be seen in a primary care setting. On discharge, the Hospital can refer such patients to Anishnawbe Mushkiki , where they can be connected to a family physician or nurse practitioner for ongoing care.
“Patients would benefit from continuity of care and wellness programs to improve overall health,” explained Hardy.
There are benefits to the health care system, too. “By improving overall health, future ED visits are prevented,” noted Bartkowiak. “Thousands of visits to the ED could be diverted, which translates to improved wait times and resource utilization for those requiring acute care services at our Hospital.”
The collaborative approach goes beyond the Emergency Department. “Our organizations are exploring and moving forward with initiatives that enhance access to other areas of care. One is transition services from in-patient to out-patient for Indigenous mental health patients,” said Hardy.
It all aligns perfectly with Anishnawbe Mushkiki’s mission to provide culturally safe, comprehensive care empowering patients through their health and wellness journeys by offering health promotion, primary and traditional approaches to patient and family centred care, and with the Hospital’s commitment to Indigenous Health.