Doc­tors dis­tressed by men­tal health ser­vices in First Na­tions urge PM to act

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

A group of physi­cians who pro­vide med­i­cal care to First Na­tions in north­west­ern On­tario are call­ing on Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and Health Min­is­ter Jane Philpott to ad­dress the “es­ca­lat­ing’’ men­tal health cri­sis in those com­mu­ni­ties.

More than 20 doc­tors out­lined their con­cerns in a let­ter re­leased ahead of an Ot­tawa meet­ing set for this af­ter­noon, not­ing they are dis­tressed by the per­pet­ual men­tal health crises in First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties.

“While govern­ment bu­reau­cra­cies main­tain fund­ing and health sys­tem de­sign, First Na­tions are left with the blame for health sys­tem fail­ure,’’ the let­ter said.

“They are also left with the re­sults of health sys­tem fail­ure: more sui­cides, more dis­ease mor­bid­ity and more bro­ken fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.’’

Later to­day, Philpott and On­tario Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins will dis­cuss sui­cide and re­gional health prob­lems with Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fid­dler _ the head of an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing 49 re­serves in north­ern On­tario.

They are also ex­pected to sign a joint char­ter to out­line how they can work to­gether to over­haul the way health care is de­liv­ered to north­ern On­tario re­serves.

Part of the over­haul re­quired in­volves giv­ing more re­sources and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to First Na­tions them­selves, the doc­tors ar­gue, be­cause the bu­reau­cracy does not have the proper tools to im­ple­ment preven­tion and treat­ment plans.

“Short-term cri­sis re­sponse in­ter­ven­tion can­not be the back­bone of any health sys­tem,’’ their let­ter said.

“This is what we have ac­cepted in the cur­rent govern­ment health sys­tem de­sign ... we ask that you in­vest in com­mu­nity-led health trans­for­ma­tion.’’

For his part, Hoskins said On­tario will send 20 new full­time men­tal health work­ers to Pikangikum First Na­tion _ a re­mote com­mu­nity lo­cated near the Man­i­toba bor­der that has long strug­gled with a sui­cide cri­sis in­clud­ing, most re­cently, the deaths of four young peo­ple.

He said the work­ers will go to the re­serve im­me­di­ately _ at a cost of about $1.6 mil­lion _ and will re­main as long as needed. The in­vest­ment comes af­ter the prov­ince heard from the com­mu­nity about a se­ri­ous need for trauma and men­tal health sup­ports in­clud­ing from about 380 peo­ple seek­ing coun­selling.

Hoskins also be­lieves chang­ing the cur­rent ap­proach in­volves giv­ing more con­trol to First Na­tions in On­tario to di­rect and man­age care, point­ing to a suc­cess­ful model used in B.C.

“I am not sug­gest­ing we sim­ply trans­plant that one here but they’ve proven it can be done,’’ Hoskins said in an in­ter­view.

“First Na­tions lead­er­ship and health work­ers on the front lines want it to be done here so that’s where I am re­ally pas­sion­ate.’’


An aban­doned house is shown on the Pikangikum First Na­tion on Friday, Jan­uary 5, 2007.

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