December 9, 2023

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The Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) and Alberta Health Services (AHS) have partnered to create an Indigenous health care clinic at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC). The clinic will help improve access to quality health care of Indigenous people living in the region.

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Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and ATC president called the Indigenous clinic a “game changer.” He said the partnership will address concerns with the health system and help AHS provide better health services for Indigenous communities.

“We’ve been working on it for quite some time and it’s finally seeing some light,” he said in an interview.

Specific health care services that will be offered will be based off community feedback meetings that will be held soon. Adam said long-standing concerns with health care in Indigenous communities will be raised, such as better supports for mental health and addiction services, he said. Information on medications, referrals and medical transfers will also likely be included.

Karla Buffalo, CEO of ATC, said health care limitations have remained because Indigenous communities have had few opportunities to engage with health care leaders at different levels of government.

“It’s really important for Indigenous communities to be involved and engaged in developing programs and services that are culturally safe and relevant in addressing the gaps in current service delivery,” she said in an interview.

What exactly those services are will be identified through engagement with Indigenous communities, said Buffalo.

“It isn’t about any one particular person or organization perspective,” she said. “It’s about going out to the First Nations, the Indigenous communities, the clients and to receive feedback on what are the most urgent needs, how can it be culturally sensitive and how can it be designed to be a welcoming space for those folks.”

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The clinic will likely be located on the hospital floor that once hosted long-term care services. The space has been empty since the opening of the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre in July 2021.

Murray Crawford, AHS Senior Operating Officer in Fort McMurray, said in an interview any services will reflect the Indigenous cultures of the region. The fourth floor balcony provides opportunities for different types of ceremonies and plants can be grown on the fourth floor balcony, he said..

“We want to knock down any barriers to care because we can’t treat you if you don’t come into our facility and if people don’t feel it’s a safe place or we haven’t identified ways to make people feel safe, then that’s a barrier to health,” said Crawford.

“We know there are some social determinants of health that affect the Indigenous community and we want to try and break down some of those barriers.”

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