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Helping Thunder Bay’s Indigenous community with a holistic approach to healthcare

Anishnawbe Mushkiki is empowering families to live a balanced, traditional way of life for optimal health and well-being.

While holistic approaches to healthcare are becoming a regular form of care throughout the healing community, Anishnawbe Mushkiki has been taking this approach for 20 years and counting.

“We acknowledge the need to increase access to culturally safe and holistic care to address the unique needs of the Indigenous population, and we are dedicated to providing equal access to quality healthcare for our community members in Thunder Bay,” says Jennifer Bean, Health Services Manager at Anishnawbe Mushkiki.

Celebrating 20 years of service

The Indigenous population in Thunder Bay has grown over the past 20 years, and so has the demand for services. Because of this growth, Anishnawbe Mushkiki has also grown by moving to a new location where they are better equipped to serve their patient’s needs.

“Everyone comes to us at a different level of health on their journey, and we have learned to meet people where they are at on that continuum,” Bean says.  

Their clients can have very complex needs and the staff at Mushkiki listen and respond thoughtfully, respecting culture and traditions to help them reach their personal goals. Whether these goals are physical, mental, or a combination of both, Mushkiki has created a holistic approach to address these needs safely, providing equal access to quality healthcare.

Growing through a global pandemic

Adaptation is a term not unfamiliar to the staff at Mushkiki, and 2020 was the definition of doing so.

To protect their patients, staff, and their families from COVID-19, Mushkiki has limited the amounts of in-person appointments and pivoted to virtual and phone appointments. Bean notes that this is a challenge, as not everyone has the required access to a smart phone, tablet, laptop or reliable high-speed internet, posing a barrier to community members that may be housing insecure, or be unable to afford technology.

“We are doing our best to close this “digital divide” and have been able to offer pre-paid cell phones to some of our clients,” Bean says.

The Programs department has also been working hard to deliver food resources, winter clothing, physical activity equipment and books to approximately 60 client families in need each week and as an organization committed to patient and family centred care, COVID-19 has reminded the staff of Mushkiki of the value in human connection.

“While conducting “wellness check” calls to patients, we were able to reinforce that bond between us and build upon the trust we have established these past 20 years. We have tremendous gratitude for our staff and clients’ ability to adapt to the ever-changing face of the pandemic,” Bean comments.

Positivity is a rarity in these times but Mushkiki believes it’s this encouraging outlook that keeps them thriving through the ever-changing days of understanding this new normal.

More opportunities to grow

When asked what is needed in the field of culturally and traditionally relevant healthcare, Bean notes that representation is needed at all levels of staffing, education and spaces, including how healthcare is accessed.

Anishnawbe Mushkiki partnered with Well Living House on a community-based research project, Our Health Counts Thunder Bay, which aims to assess and improve the health of urban Indigenous people. Bean says they would like the results of this study to be used by governments, funding organizations and other health care stakeholders to be able to plan for the health needs of the growing Indigenous community.

Throughout COVID-19 and going forward in a future holding new and better opportunities for all-inclusive healthcare, Anishnawbe Mushkiki is developing ways to improve access and provide high quality healthcare and education to families and communities, allowing Indigenous people to make empowered decisions about their healthcare in order to preserve their culture and to live a balanced, traditional way of life.

“We believe in patients first, exceptional care,” says Bean.

With an ever-growing clientele and need for better understanding of what it means to take care of oneself, Mushkiki has created an environment that is culturally and traditionally relevant to those they serve.

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