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Royal Alex celebrates Indigenous health

August 29, 2018

Christine Whitford is honoured with a blanket ceremony for her work with the Indigenous Wellness Clinic which provides primary care services to Indigenous populations with a holistic approach at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Presenting her with the blanket are Indigenous Cultural Helpers Janice Shirt and Alvina Yellowknee.

Open House showcases AHS’ integration of culture and healthcare

Story and photo by Vanessa Gomez

EDMONTON — Culture and healthcare came together for a celebration when the Indigenous Wellness Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) held its Second Annual Open House recently.

The retiring Christine Whitford, a manager with RAH’s Allied Health team, was recognized for her devotion to the team and honoured with a blanket ceremony and honour song, performed by a group of traditional drummers led by Justin Wright.

The opening ceremony heard from members of the Indigenous Health Program team herald the clinic’s ongoing success and importance.

A healing dance for the staff and patients of the RAH was performed. All attendees were invited to take part in a Round Dance to honour those who work together to advance healthcare for Alberta’s Indigenous people at the June 22 event.

“The Indigenous Program is part of our leadership team and has an equal seat at our table,” says Judith Hockney, Senior Operating Officer at the RAH. “By fostering positive relationships between members of the Indigenous community and healthcare providers, we can ensure that we give patient-centred medical care that is also culturally-appropriate.”

The Indigenous Wellness Clinic provides primary care services — including diabetes education and management, mental health and addictions, family medicine and palliative care — to Indigenous populations with a holistic approach that incorporates the mind, body, spirit and emotions.

A spiritual room at the RAH affords patients and their families a quiet place, with Elders present to offer guidance and Indigenous ceremonies, such as smudging. As well, this welcoming environment, with the tipi located nearby outside, gives a sense of cultural familiarity.

The AHS Wisdom Council was formed in 2012 to bring together First Nations, Metis and Inuit groups, with a goal to ensure all Indigenous Albertans receive culturally appropriate care. Elders serve on the council to help educate staff on holistic practices — and to help determine which potential care paths would best honour each patient’s cultural background.

As it integrates culturally appropriate care, AHS is also working to help Indigenous people overcome the economic, political, cultural and socio-historical barriers that they face.

“We want to ensure our services are as flexible and supportive as possible,” says Nadine McRee, Executive Director of the Indigenous Health Program.

Missed appointments are rescheduled, and walk-in appointments are welcomed to take into account the various complexities people face in accessing healthcare, such as the availability of transportation and specialized mental health support.

Following the opening ceremony, healthcare experts manned information booths on preventative healthcare and ways to improve the quality of life in the community. Participants included AHS Injury Prevention, Mental Health and Addictions, Healthy Living and the Metis Nation of Alberta. Topics included: tobacco cessation, naloxone training, and bike and helmet safety.

“The partnerships we have with our Wisdom Council, the RAH Foundation, leadership and staff are so important in improving healthcare for our people,” adds McRee.

“This truly is a celebration of moving forward together to make things better.”