The Helping Hands carving in the atrium of UHNBC isn't just a striking piece of public art, it's part of Northern Health's ongoing desire to improve its cultural competency to better serve First Nations people in the region.
"Most of our service providers are not First Nations and our facilities have not been designed with First Nations people in mind and often don't have the characteristics that you might expect if you're from a particular cultural group," Northern Health president and CEO Cathy Ulrich said. "We need to learn a lot about what are the cultural practices that would make somebody feel welcome in some of our facilities."
The carving is just one piece of a much larger puzzle the health authority is in the process of piecing together. The Northern Health board approved a three-year aboriginal health service plan at its meeting this week and the board also received an update on a separate plan being worked on by the First Nations Health Partnership Committee.
The Northern Health plan is centered around the work it currently does, with the partnership committee was created after the First Nations Health Authority got off the ground.
Many of the discussions during the development of the Northern Health plan centered around the desire from First Nations people to focus on holism, and develop a model centered around wellness rather than sickness. To that end the health authority is developing a paper on holism to better inform its staff on what that means.
"A lot of our work is around health promotion and population health," Northern Health chairman Charles Jago said. "So understanding what health promotion means to First Nations and how to approach it is what's really being talked about."
Many staff members and board members have also taken a course on cultural competency which has taught them more about the history of First Nations experiences in Canada and the health authority hopes that will lead to better understanding of the issues facing aboriginal people today.
With some broad plans in place, both Ulrich and Jago said it's important for local groups to sit down to address concerns individual communities.
"The implementation isn't global, it's local, local, local," Jago said. "It's local people working together, local professionals working together to develop solutions that are doable in a local context."
Developing programs in remote communities can be a particular challenge which will require ongoing discussions to overcome.
"First of all just accessing services is challenging for remote communities," Ulrich said. "Things like telehealth and access to information technology is complex, transportation is more complex, access to health service providers is more complex, everything is at a distance."
The First Nations Health Partnership Committee plan was developed by a committee consisting of both Northern Health staff and First Nations representatives.
The group has met three times and developed a plan that Ulrich described as "process-oriented and developmental." Although the plan is short on specifics, Ulrich said progress is being made.
"I think the most important thing that's happening is partnership and the first step in a partnership is getting to know each other as people and as organizations," she said. "In terms of seeing concrete results, we're not there yet, we've got this groundwork that's we've been establishing."