Circle for developing health-care solutions widens

First Nations and Aboriginal peoples engaged to focus on challenging issues

Curve Lake First Nation Chief Phyllis Williams eagerly anticipates every meeting of the First Nations Health Advisory Circle.

She says it’s because of the dialogue and solutions coming forward with the Central East Local Health Integration Network (Central East LHIN), represented within the circle by LHIN staff person Jai Mills.

“It’s always good to be part of the solution and not wait for someone else to do it for us,” says Williams, who has long been involved in health-care management, including the development of the Ontario Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy.

Engagement creates a pathway for effective partnerships to form and develop actions to help improve the overall health of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples, Williams says, noting a number of health issues are challenging communities - such as cancer, diabetes, palliative care, heart health, mental health and addiction and access to health care - and headway is being made.

For instance, a dialogue has opened with mental health and addiction service providers on how to better support First Nations and urban-based Aboriginal peoples.

“Mental health is a big issue because we have a history of trauma,” Williams says.

She’s excited to see the consultation and engagement, which also involves a Métis, Inuit, Non-Status People’s Advisory Committee, continue “because our successes haven’t even begun yet.”

“We’re starting on that road to wellness, we see that vision, and we can appreciate what’s happening,” Williams says. “The beauty of this is that we are part of the solution and we have to be. It’s about us, our culture, who we are, our identity. And we have to take our place in this province.”

In 2010, the First Nations Health Advisory Circle and the Métis, Inuit, Non-Status People’s Advisory Committee were officially established by the Central East LHIN and the Alderville First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, Hiawatha First Nation, Métis Nation of Ontario and the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

Two groups were established on the advice of the Chiefs of the four First Nations located within the boundaries of the Central East LHIN.

“The Chiefs advised us that given the complexities of structures, funding and culture, it was not entirely possible to effectively plan with Aboriginal People in one large Circle,” says Mills. “Therefore, the Central East LHIN established these two Aboriginal Planning groups to ensure that we are addressing the needs of Aboriginal People in a way that is comfortable and appropriate for them.”

The circle and committee advise on various topics reflecting on provincial and Central East LHIN priorities that impact the First Nations and urban-based Aboriginal peoples living in the region.

“They provide direct advice to our board and our role as staff is to support them in that voice and to support them in the things that will help their health improve,” Mills says.

Since this partnership was formalized, First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Non-Status people have identified barriers to receiving equitable access to health services, including jurisdictional and funding issues, lack of sensitivity to their culture and a lack of targeted programs that focus on their particular health needs.

By working together, the circle, the committee and the Central East LHIN have created opportunities to meet with the Community Care Access Centre, local hospitals and community-based agencies so information can be shared on distinct needs and culture of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples.

Most recently, the Central East LHIN has supported First Nations working with Cancer Care Ontario to recruit an Aboriginal cancer care navigator. One of the circle’s members helped to develop the description for this role and a member of Alderville First Nation was hired as the navigator. As well, a partnership has been facilitated with the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) and First Nations to receive new telemedicine units. And a Victorian Order of Nurses adult day program is to be offered at Curve Lake First Nation.

Mills can see the relationship with First Nations and Aboriginal Peoples continuing to be enriched.

“We’ve been very fortunate to earn the trust that we have to date but that’s very much because we’ve worked very hard at listening and following the direction of the circle and committee members, as opposed to trying to make them fit into what we do,” she says.

Alderville First Nation Chief James Marsden, who has co-chaired the circle, says the open lines of communication have been a key element in building a relationship of trust.

Equally important is weaving a wider web of understanding about First Nations’ and Aboriginal peoples’ culture, which is central not only to how they live their lives but also to how they manage their health, Marsden and Williams say.

This is leading to outcomes like the aforementioned partnerships as well as other changes. A smudging ceremony, for instance, can take place at a local hospital for a First Nation member who is palliative.

“That understanding and making room for things like this means they are hearing what our health concerns are and how we can make things better together,” Marsden says.

He and Williams agree that the structure set with the advisory circle and committee is something that other LHINs could emulate as an inclusive and engaging mode for health-care planning and management.

“We have the opportunity to meet, to collaborate, to be there in a supportive way, and to be able to brainstorm and come up with options or solutions together, so that you’re not working in isolation,” Williams says.

“I like how we work together, how we embrace the challenges and how everyone has the same opportunity to contribute to strategy, sharing ideas, what works and what may not,” says Williams. “It’s important that we reflect what the community concerns and issues are and how we assure the required services for our citizens.”

The Central East LHIN is currently implementing its third Integrated Health Service Plan (IHSP), setting out a shared goal for the local health care system to help Central East LHIN residents spend more time in their homes and their communities.

Community Engagement is the foundation of all activity at the Central East LHIN. Being more responsive to local needs and opportunities requires on-going dialogue and planning with those who use and deliver health services.

For more information on the LHIN’s First Nations Health Advisory Circle and the Métis, Inuit, Non-Status People’s Advisory Committee, please visit the Central East LHIN website – and click on “Get Involved – Aboriginal Engagement.”

Submitted by Lisa Bailey, Axiom News.  To contact Lisa, please email