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Working together to advance Indigenous cultural safety in health care

Take a look at some of the actions PHSA is taking to help create a safer and fairer health care system for Indigenous peoples.
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Top: Winners from the Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition; launch of BC Cancer's Indigenous Cancer Strategy; BC Housing, BC Women's and PHSA Indigenous Health representatives partner to support patients from Fir Square.

Bottom: Participants at the Gathering Wisdom for a Shared Journey forum during the launch of the "Screen. For Wellness" campaign; logo for the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety training program; Dr. Adeera Levin (middle row left), with members of the Can-SOLVE CKD Indigenous Peoples’ Engagement and Research Council.

​Did you know that Indigenous people face the greatest health disparities of all populations in BC and yet have the least access to health care? These gaps in care exist due to stereotyping, discrimination and lack of understanding from a long history of colonization, which can result in unsafe or avoidance of care.

At PHSA, we have an opportunity to address inequities Indigenous people face in health care and improve experiences for Indigenous staff and patients. PHSA is committed to becoming a culturally safe organization, and our goal is to foster an environment where our staff understand and recognize the impacts of colonization in order to provide health care services that are equitable, respectful and safe.

June is Indigenous History Month and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day – to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. It is also a time where we can reflect on the history of colonization in Canada and its impact on Indigenous people today.

Work to better care for Indigenous peoples is well underway across PHSA as we near the third anniversary of our signing of the Declaration of Commitment on Cultural Safety and Humility in Health Services Delivery for First Nations and Aboriginal people in BC. In February, our organization-wide Indigenous Cultural Safety Strategy was approved by the senior executive team and Board, and will help coordinate our efforts in implementing initiatives that support culturally safe care within PHSA programs and services. 

Our Indigenous Cultural Safety Strategy targets six areas at the individual and organization level to address anti-Indigenous racism:

  • Administration and governance
  • Human resources, training and people development
  • Equitable access and service delivery
  • Policy, procedures, risk and legal
  • Communications and community relations
  • Planning, monitoring, evaluation and research

Leaders, staff from various programs and services across PHSA, Indigenous health leaders and Elders from BC, and researchers all contributed to the development of the strategy by sharing their insights and knowledge to shape our strategy and ensuring the best possible outcomes are achieved through partnership and collaboration.

PHSA Indigenous Health continues to connect with leadership teams across the organization to share updates about the strategy, identify areas where programs and services can work horizontally across the organization to support one another, and recognize the important work that has started. Some of the recent milestones, accomplishments and initiatives that are helping to transform health care for Indigenous peoples across PHSA include the following:

  • In November 2017, BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enter a partnership with BC Housing, with the goal of successfully discharging women and their newborns from Fir Square and finding the most suitable housing options for their needs. PHSA Indigenous Health led in this collaborative effort to meet the specialized needs of Indigenous women, and all women and their newborns on Fir Square.

  • In December 2017, BC Cancer launched its Indigenous Cancer Strategy in partnership with First Nations Health Authority, Métis Nation BC and BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. The strategy includes providing training for staff and physicians on culturally safe care, hiring more Indigenous staff, introducing policies to integrate traditional wellness into a complete care regimen and creating spaces that accommodate for the use of traditional ceremonies and medicine.

  • In January, the Silent Genomes project, a study at BC Children's Hospital Research Institute that aims to improve genetic testing and care for Indigenous children, was awarded $10.4 million in funding from the 2017 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition in Genomics and Precision Health. The study is led by Drs. Wyeth Wasserman, Laura Arbour and Nadine Caron (UBC) in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.

  • As of February, more than 48,000 people have completed the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training program, delivered by PHSA Indigenous Health. The program has been adapted and expanded for use in Ontario and Manitoba, as well as mental health, child welfare and justice sectors.

  • Also in February, PHSA Facilities Management began working to develop facility design guidelines for renovations and new builds, taking into account best practices for culturally safe spaces and engagement with local Indigenous communities.

  • Perinatal Services BC, in partnership with First Nation's Health Authority, led two training sessions in Spring on perinatal depression and anxiety called "Journey to Perinatal Wellbeing." The sessions build upon existing online materials and practice support resources, providing an Indigenous lens to enhance the learning of health care providers and support workers working in First Nations communities.

  • The BRRIDGE to Transplantation Initiative, a BC-wide program for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to gain equitable access to kidney transplants, was awarded a $100,000 business case development grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The program is led by executive director of the BC Renal Agency, Dr. Adeera Levin and Dr. Jagbir Gill (UBC). The BC Renal Agency is also a partner with Can-SOLVE CKD, a national, patient-oriented research network that includes multiple initiatives to improve care, experience and outcomes for Indigenous peoples in BC.

  • In May, BC Cancer and the First Nations Health Authority launched a new cancer screening campaign at the Gathering Wisdom for a Shared Journey forum. The "Screen. For Wellness" campaign links cancer screening to Indigenous concepts of health and wellness, conveying the impact that a cancer diagnosis can have on a whole community and encourages Indigenous community advocates to champion cancer screening within their communities.

For information about events across the province in celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day, visit

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