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Health ᒥᔪᐱᒫᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

First Nations Health Managers Association reboots virtual town halls to fight second wave of pandemic

BY Patrick Quinn Oct 23, 2020

While they had hoped a second season wouldn’t be necessary, the First Nations Health Managers Association (FNHMA) has brought back its virtual town hall series to provide credible information for Indigenous communities in the face of the second wave of Covid-19.

“We really felt the need to come back, especially as we see cases increasing and the urgency in First Nations,” said FNHMA CEO Marion Crowe. “Right now, we’re seeing Manitoba hit hard and when it hits a nation it’s like throwing a match into a haystack because of other social determinants of health like overcrowding, tuberculosis, pre-existing health conditions, lack of infrastructure.”

The weekly series is broadcast every Thursday at 1 pm until December 3 on ihtoday.ca and numerous Indigenous websites, radio and television stations. Crowe told the Nation that the series regularly attracts 15,000 to 20,000 live viewers, indicating that there is a significant interest.

“The town halls have been alarmingly successful,” said Crowe. “We’re learning it’s not just health managers and leaders within our nations who are listening and watching. It’s providing education and context for First Nations service delivery to non-Indigenous people as well – that’s why we’re seeing the numbers so high.”

Upcoming episodes will feature regulars like Carol Hopkins from the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and Brenda Restoule from the First Peoples Wellness Circle, as well as a talk with an Indigenous community that experienced an outbreak but is now keeping new infections at bay. They will also discuss an FNHMA pandemic planning tool and a community wellness tool, written in partnership with the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. 

“We’re nimble, so we can adapt our scheduling in case anything urgent arises and we need that platform,” explained Crowe. “We’ve been successful in terms of bringing different voices to the table who have information for Indigenous communities. Unlikely partnerships as well – FNHMA now has a soft partnership with the Canadian Red Cross.”

Besides the virtual town halls, FNHMA continues to encourage anyone to call or email its InfoPoint service to receive reliable Covid-19 information within 30 minutes. Its resources are regularly updated and will remain available to health managers even after the pandemic crisis eventually passes.

While the organization’s programs and workshops have traditionally been delivered through intensive in-person sessions, they have been busy adapting them to online and hybrid formats. Their first pilot of a new hybrid certification program currently has over 90 students enrolled. 

“We’re happy that people are continuing to build a healthcare workforce that’s certified and prepared for the evolution of taking care of our own health services,” said Crowe. “To have that – by us, for us – is something we don’t see in other places. It takes into account how we administer health, working with multiple jurisdictions, creating those partnerships, respecting our governance processes.”

Focused primarily on Indigenous healthcare goals, the FNHMA certification program has credit transfer agreements established with institutions like Athabasca University, enabling students to proceed towards an online master’s degree in health. With recent instances of systemic racism justifying distrust of public services, there is a growing call to empower Indigenous healthcare managers and systems.

“The example of what happened to Joyce [Echaquan] in the Quebec healthcare system is tragic but not shocking,” Crowe asserted. “It’s not just a Quebec issue. We need to decolonize services. Transitioning to First Nations control will ensure services have culture woven into them.”

She cited the example of British Columbia’s First Nations Health Authority, the first province-wide healthcare delivery service of its kind, before highlighting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to hire more Indigenous health professionals to create culturally safe services.

“Minister Marc Miller has invited FNHMA with other Indigenous health organizations in meetings regarding systemic racism,” Crowe shared. “The Assembly of First Nations is calling a meeting on systemic racism as well. So, multiple sticks in our collective fire but all of them with hope we can continue to be a voice in building a much-needed workforce in our nations.” 

FNHMA will celebrate this growing workforce November 4 with a live broadcast on their website and partners’ social media pages from 1-4 pm. About 20 graduates of its certification program will receive a special award presented to an Indigenous healthcare leader managing through this difficult time. 

This virtual celebration will also feature messages of hope and gratitude from AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, plus a new song from Crystal Shawanda. 

“We have a conference every year at this time,” Crowe explained. “The easy thing would have been to cancel the event but now is the time to step up, hold these people up, and say thanks. These are proving to be challenging times but ones we will get through and it will only be together through collaboration.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.