AHS launches navigation service for Indigenous Peoples

LETHBRIDGE – Indigenous Peoples in the South Zone of Alberta Health Services (AHS) can now receive one-on-one help to access the health services they need with the launch of a new Indigenous Patient Navigation service.

The service aims to improve patient outcomes for Indigenous Peoples, and address health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. For instance, research shows life expectancy for First Nations in Alberta is 10 years shorter than non-First Nations.

“It is essential Indigenous Albertans have access to the healthcare services and medical information they need,” says Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health. “Providing navigation services will better support Indigenous patients and their families, and is an important step to improving health outcomes for Indigenous Albertans.”

The service has hired a full-time Indigenous patient navigator, Chloe Crosschild, a registered nurse and a member of the Blood Tribe (Kainai).

“My own experiences fuel my passion to close the health equity gap for Indigenous Peoples in the South Zone,” says Crosschild, who is based out of Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge but serves the entire zone. “This position will better assist Indigenous Peoples to navigate the complex array of programs and services AHS has to offer. In doing so, my hope is that Indigenous Peoples will experience positive and meaningful encounters with the healthcare system.”

During AHS community engagement sessions held a year ago, many Indigenous patients and families in the South Zone expressed frustration they were both unaware of and overwhelmed by the range of health services that AHS offers. In response, AHS and Indigenous stakeholders co-designed the navigation service, which is supported by $1.4 million in grant funding from the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS), a partnership between AHS and Alberta Innovates.

“No one can speak to the challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples in Alberta better than they can themselves,” says Dr. Katherine Chubbs, Chief Zone Officer for AHS South Zone. “Participants in our engagement sessions identified that a patient navigation service could address some of those challenges.”

Dr. Melissa Potestio, Scientific Director for AHS’ Population, Public and Indigenous Health Strategic Clinical Network, says the project builds on the trust and strong working relationships the South Zone has maintained with Indigenous communities through ongoing engagement with the departments of health on the Kainai and Piikani First Nations, and the urban Indigenous population.

“This is not just a new service,” says Dr. Potestio, who is co-leading the project with Chubbs. “This is a robust, three-year research project that will examine the effectiveness of co-designing a navigation model, the impact on health outcomes and inequities, and how the model could be adapted for other jurisdictions.”

The project also involves:

  • Developing an Indigenous Patient Passport to help patients with their plan of care between home, the doctor’s office, outpatient clinics and the hospital.
  • Compiling community and clinic profiles that identify the health services and supports available (on and off reserve) to help with discharge planning and ensure continuity of care.
  • Co-designing a medical body chart translated into Blackfoot, as well as a Cultural Practices Guide to provide a resource for healthcare providers to identify common clinical practices from an Indigenous cultural perspective and offer tips for connection to provide culturally safe care.

Throughout the project, the team will be seeking feedback from patients, providers and various stakeholders to ensure ongoing improvements can be implemented and evaluated, all in an effort to ensure the service is improving the experience and health outcomes for Indigenous Peoples.

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