Health department’s Cultural Safety Action Plan sets big goals with little detail

Jim Antoine, chair of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority Leadership, signs the declaration of commitment to bring in cultural safety to the healthcare system as Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy and Deputy Minister Bruce Cooper look on. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns)

Now the hard work begins.

That’s what Jim Antoine told about 35 people gathered for the signing of the Department of Health and Social Services’ 2018-2020 Cultural Safety Action Plan.

Antoine is the chair of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority Leadership Council.

Little detail

The plan has been years in the making to improve Indigenous people’s experience in the healthcare system.

The plan outlines four objectives that look at training, incorporating traditional knowledge in the healthcare system and improving the experience of people accessing the system.

However, details on how to achieve those objectives are scant.

The tangible changes outlined in the plan are projects already in place: a new training module for staff, the elder-in-residence program at the Stanton Territorial Hospital and the Inuinnaqtun Pilot Program at Emegak health centre in Ulukhaktok.

The plan mentions on-the-land learning opportunities, the use of traditional medicine and even offering traditional foods to Indigenous clients. But those ideas are all burdened by government-speak of “providing policy options” and “developing strategies”.

There’s no mention of funding or specific dates to have these ideas implemented.

Another omission is how the plan will affect mental health services in the territory.

Little money for engagement

During the signing, Minister of Health and Social Services Glen Abernethy mentioned there were about 30 consultation sessions across the territory when putting the plan together.

The department received $3.7 million from the federal government to put towards the plan since 2017-2018.

Of that total, only about three per cent–$110,000–went towards “engagement activities” according to the department.

The department’s contribution was mainly “staffing support” for the engagement process.

Little communities ‘critical’

Implementing the plan in the smaller communities is “a critical component of how we move forward,” says Sue Cullen, the CEO of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority.

Cullen says she’ll be bringing up the plan through her travels around the communities.

She also reference the regional wellness councils who will have a role in “providing advice and gathering information from community members.”

Asked about tangible outcomes, Cullen said she wants health practitioners to engage with clients about what cultural safety means to improve care.

She also pointed to the implementation of traditional healing in Deline, which she says “can be translated to other areas in the NWT.”

With plan in place until next year, NWT will have a short time to see improvements in the healthcare system.

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