Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has added Indigenous support services to various health care centres including Slave Lake.

At the Lesser Slave Lake Health Advisory Council, Adam North Peigan, with the AHS Indigenous Wellness Core presented on the province-wide initiative.

The goal of the initiative is “creating culturally safe health care environments,” he said.

Slave Lake has an AHS Indigenous Wellness Coordinator, who works from the Slave Lake Healthcare Centre.

“The coordinator serves as cultural support to improve the quality of health care delivery to Indigenous patients through direct patient support,” says Lisa Laferriere, with AHS communications in an email. “This gives patients more opportunity to incorporate their traditional and spiritual practices during their hospital stay.”

Specific services the Slave Lake worker offers include translation, referrals on and off-reserve, Indigenous specific resources, access to ceremonies, including smudging within AHS facilities, helping the patient get ready to be discharged, cultural consultation, and consult with healthcare providers on Indigenous-centred care and advocate for the patient and families.

“Smudging is a very important part of our healthcare,” said North Peigan. The Indigenous Wellness Core worked with AHS to change the smoke rules to allow smudging. However, people need to ask for a set time, so that the smoke detectors can be turned off and turned back on.

To speak with the Indigenous Wellness Coordinator, patients and their families can ask their healthcare team.

Indigenous people can also call the AHS Indigenous Support Line at 1-844-944-4744, between noon and 8 p.m. on Monday to Friday.

“A lot of them (Indigenous people) are not feeling comfortable calling 811 (the generic medical support line),” said North Peigan. “The idea came from the (AHS) Wisdom Council to develop our own line that’s Indigenous.”

The line was launched in northern Alberta in June 2022. It is now available in the north, central, and south, but not Edmonton or Calgary.

All of the people who answer the helpline are Indigenous, said North Peigan.

New AHS staff complete some online training about Indigenous history in Canada and the affect this has had.

The goal is to train healthcare workers to have more empathy in their care of Indigenous people, said North Peigan.
Lack of cultural understanding by healthcare workers for Indigenous people has been a problem in Slave Lake, said an Indigenous Slave Laker at another health related event in Slave Lake.

On February 15, about 45 Slave Lake and area residents took part in a Government of Alberta’s engagement session in Slave Lake about refocusing Alberta’s healthcare system. See full article about the event in a later Lakeside Leader.