Health authority launches virtual program for Indigenous people

Health authority launches virtual program for Indigenous people

Osoyoos Indian Band office. (File photo)

Sophie Gray

Local Journalism Initiative

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has announced the launch of a virtual health care program for B.C. Indigenous people unable to access in-person care.

The program provides virtual doctors’ appointments, either over the phone or over a video conferencing session. The service currently has 31 doctors on staff, including 10 of Indigenous descent.

The First Nations Virtual Doctor a Day program helps the FNHA pursue their goal of breaking down barriers to culturally safe, appropriate primary care.

“When cultural safety and humility are enabled, First Nations people are more likely to access care when they need it,” said FNHA board chair Marion Colleen Erickson in an emailed press release.

“One-third of the doctors in the program are Indigenous themselves and assigned to a region they know and understand for this reason.”

Access to health care for many rural and remote First Nations communities in B.C. emerged as an issue early on during the fight against COVID-19. Some remote communities have seen outbreaks and even deaths due to the pandemic, like the remote community of Alert Bay.

Local First Nations are not as remote, but still face struggles accessing health care.

The Osoyoos Indian Band has a health clinic developed with funding from the First Nations Health Authority with access to resources at the nearby Oliver hospital. But sometimes that is not enough.

“The pandemic led to the closure of many community-based health centres and doctors’ offices across the province,” said Richard Jock, FNHA interim CEO.

The Virtual Doctor a Day service will help take some of the pressure off of the local clinics like the one run by the Osoyoos Indian Band, which was overflowing with demand before the pandemic hit, according to Chief Clarence Louie.

Louie said in a conversation in March that he often saw Oliver residents and Osoyoos Indian Band members alike using the clinic’s services.

The Virtual Doctor a Day program will ensure that Indigenous people are prioritized during continued pandemic health care.

The program is free to all Indigenous people living in B.C. Hosted over Zoom when an internet connection is available, people need only call the service line to set up an appointment. If an internet connection is not available, telephone appointments can be made.