Doc­tors urge ac­tion on men­tal health ser­vices for First Na­tions

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — 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 Mon­day 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.”

Philpott and On­tario Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins dis­cussed sui­cide and re­gional health prob­lems with Nish­nawbe Aski Na­tion (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fid­dler.

He is the head of an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing 49 re­serves in north­ern On­tario.

They were 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 full-time 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.

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