OTTAWA – POLITICS – This past Tuesday, the provincial government announced that it will create a “super” agency called Ontario Health that will eventually dissolve the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LIHNs), and six other agencies which include Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario. The North West LIHN covers half of the province’s land mass and serves a mostly First Nation population.
During this mega-merger process, the government, and the public must not lose sight that health services for our most vulnerable population must not be diminished. In fact, they must be strengthened if our Peoples are to become happy, healthy contributors to their families, their communities, their regions, Ontario, and Canada.
We cannot lose what little local control there is in the current LIHN system to faceless bureaucrats in Toronto, who know little or nothing of First Nation culture, let alone the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. People of all political stripes must recognize that improving First Nation health outcomes must be a top priority.
When I was Regional Chief in 2016, I was able to help secure $222 million in new funding from Ontario for the three-year First Nations Health Action Plan which is aimed primarily at improving health care in the Far North. At the time, I stated:
“We must never lose sight that these health crises will only end when we address the main determinants such as water, housing, education and economically sustainable communities.
“If we don’t deal with the legacy of the Indian Act and the residential school system, this funding is only going to be reactionary in nature.
“It’s only going to be throwing good money after bad, so I think that we really need to have a discussion as to what the root causes are and how we actually deal with the foundation of the real problems here.”
Right now, we know that northern communities have difficulty accessing a variety of timely and adequate health, home and community care services. Almost on a daily basis, there is a tragic story of an elderly patient or child passing away while in transit or while waiting for medical services to arrive.
Far too many of our communities make do with one or two staff in a nursing station. The nearest doctor is hundreds of kilometres away. They need adequate health clinics and access to medical professionals and health care providers in their homes and directly in the communities.
Many of our Peoples feel like strangers in a strange land when they have to travel to hospitals hundreds of kilometres from their families in order to receive services that are not even specifically designed for First Nations. This cultural disconnect severely impacts their health outcomes and quality of care.
As the former Regional Chief and Chair of the AFN Chiefs Committee on Health, I call upon all levels of government to never forget that so much more needs to be done in order to rebuild our Nations. Our health, and the health of our children, the health of our lands and waters, is paramount if we are to truly become partners in future prosperity for all.