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Indigenous health tops agenda at health-care AGM

The Regional Health Sciences Centre and Regional Research Institute hold first joint AGM; disparities in health care across region discussed.
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Sheldon Tobe
Dr. Sheldon Tobe, Heart and Stroke Foundation/Northern Ontario School of Medicine chair in Aboriginal and Rural Health Research, was the keynote speaker during the AGM.

THUNDER BAY - Two health-care organizations strengthened an already close and important relationship while looking for ways to bridge the health disparities between Indigenous populations and the rest of the province.

On Thursday, for the first time the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute hosted a joint annual general meeting.

“Synergy is a good thing,” said Dr. Gary Polonsky, chair of the board of the Regional Research Institute. “It is never a good time to waste money and maybe 2017 is the worst time to waste money. We are saving money, we are sharing resources, ideas, it was inevitable and a good thing that it is happening now.”

Nadine Doucette, chair of the board of the Regional Health Sciences Centre said hosting a joint AGM is a benefit to all members who already work so closely together.

“I think a lot of the players are the same and the two organizations,” she said. “And those that are different, we can learn from each other. We are learning as we go along and we are learning together.”

This year’s AMG had a strong focus on health issues and challenges facing Indigenous communities throughout Northwestern Ontario.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Sheldon Tobe, Heart and Stroke Foundation/Northern Ontario School of Medicine chair in Aboriginal and Rural Health Research, said there are many regional disparities in health throughout the province, with Northwestern Ontario having much higher rates of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular death.

“These risks are even magnified more in Indigenous populations in the Northwest,” he said. “The Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute are addressing these issues. They have an exciting program, they are having some tremendous success, there is a lot of work to go in the future to address them, but I really feel they are on the right footing.”

According to Tobe, the disparities often deal with health systems and innovation is needed in how health services are delivered to ensure that all those who need care, receive it.

“I don’t have any easy answers, because there are no easy answers,” Tobe said. “That’s why we need groups like the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute to identity what those answers are, to study them, evaluate them, put them into process, and provide care for Northerners that will help to improve their health.”

Fort William First Nation chief, Peter Collins, also spoke during the AGM and he recognizes that Indigenous communities do face increased rates of serious health issues and those communities want to be involved in finding solutions.

“We want to be a part of technology, we want to be a part of that education,” he said. “We have a lot of smokers in our community and when they smoke for quite some time, they have a hard time breathing. We want to make sure there is work that can help them and heal them and move their life along in a better way.”

But Collins added that innovations in health services are making a big difference, particularly advances in cardiovascular care at the Regional Health Sciences Centre.

“When my dad passed away in 1999, if we had had that technology and that stuff in place then, then maybe my dad would still be here today,” Collins said. “We want to try and keep our people around as long as we can. Technology and studies and the work that the hospital does in partnership with all of our communities will only enhance that and make it better for all our community members.”