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Health ᒥᔪᐱᒫᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

One hospital’s efforts to make services more accessible to Indigenous patients

BY Ben Powless Apr 23, 2021

After the death of Joyce Echaquan last September, many health providers across Quebec questioned their treatment of Indigenous patients and analyzed the barriers to care they may face. 

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) in Montreal founded an inclusivity committee six months ago, focused on making the hospital more accessible for the Indigenous and other minorities. Under the Quebec Health Act, every public health institution must have a patients’ committee with the goal of protecting and defending user rights and working to improve care in the institution. 

Brian Esau of Waskaganish was one of the patients asked to sit on the MUHC committee. “It is important to have that representation – so they will know what Indigenous patients encounter,” Esau told the CBC in an interview. 

“It is difficult being far away and not at home. A patient does better when they are treated well. When they are treated unfairly – they don’t do as well. It makes it more difficult being in Montreal. This is why I agreed to join the committee.”

Pierre Y. Hurteau has served on patient subcommittees for 13 years, including as chairperson. He told the Nation about a moment when he realized the hospital systems could be doing more for Indigenous patients. 

“We were aware that there were problems with Indigenous people in the health system in Quebec, there were a few signals given by Joyce Echaquan and others. And myself, as a patient, I was in the ER and next to me was a Cree couple, and I sensed they were feeling a bit strange, and I sort of said how can we make the hospital environment more user-friendly to Indigenous people.” 

For instance, Hurteau identified challenges for northern dialysis patients during the pandemic. 

“There’s no dialysis treatment up North and they have to stay down south, because it’s two or three times a week,” he noted. “Normally pre-pandemic they would go back every three months and then return for treatment, but now they haven’t been up North to see their families. We hope someday they can get more treatment where they live.”

That’s when the committee recruited Esau, a dialysis patient, and started with the first phase of the accessibility initiative, which began with translating a user committee pamphlet into Mohawk, Cree and Inuktitut. A second phase will ensure that way-finding signs around the hospital are translated into Indigenous languages and more Indigenous art will be exhibited in the hospital.

Hurteau is hopeful that, “we will be more aware with the presence, for instance, of the patient from up North on our committee, their concerns and issues with the health system, and the ways we can improve the care they receive.” 

To join the patients’ committee or submit feedback to the MUHC, visit muhc.ca/patientscommittee

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.