B.C. announces new health-care framework to better serve remote and Indigenous communities

The provincial government has announced a new framework for health care in rural, remote and Indigenous communities to improve residents’ access to critical and culturally appropriate health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement Monday said improvements to the health-care system will include better modes of land and air transportation for people who need to leave their home community for treatment in larger urban centres, including more planes, helicopters and 55 new ambulances.

The government is also offering access to “faster and culturally appropriate COVID-19 testing methods,” as well as self-isolation accommodations nearer to hospitals away from home. Access to virtual health care will also be improved.

“Everyone in B.C. deserves to have health-care services delivered where they live,” Premier John Horgan said during a news conference Monday. 

The statement added the framework is flexible, so local leaders can tailor it to their communities’ needs. 

Watch | Dr. Danièle Behn Smith explains why remote Indigenous communities are more vulnerable

B.C.’s Aboriginal health physician adviser says robust tracking “using both western and Indigenous data” is required to meet the needs of Indigenous patients. 1:54

Health officials and community leaders have said the new coronavirus adversely affects remote communities without quick, local access to medical care. Aboriginal health physician adviser Dr. Danièle Behn Smith said Indigenous communities are further adversely affected by long-term, ongoing systemic and structural racism and discrimination.

“As a result of colonial practices and policies, we come into this epidemic on unequal footing. An ethicist colleague of mine noted that coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, but systems can and do,” she said Monday, adding the pandemic has the potential to be “culturally devastating.”

Behn Smith, who is Eh Cho Dene from the Fort Nelson First Nation, said Monday’s announcement was an “excellent” step toward a higher level of care for Indigenous communities. 

She added robust tracking, “using both western and Indigenous data,” is required to determine whether pandemic responses are meeting patients’ needs in culturally sensitive ways.

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