Alberta's first Indigenous navigator hopes to improve experience of patients

Indigenous people in southern Alberta may soon have a better experience while trying to access clinical and cultural support through Alberta Health Services. 

RN Chloe Crossfield will bridge gap between Indigenous patients and non-Indigenous care providers

Registered nurse Chloe Crosschild, the first Indigenous patient navigator for Alberta Health Services, says she is in a unique position to understand the frustrations of Indigenous patients. (Alberta Health Services)

Indigenous peoples in southern Alberta may soon have a better experience while trying to access clinical and cultural support through Alberta Health Services. 

The Indigenous Patient Navigation Service, now being offered in Lethbridge, is the first of its kind in the province, and registered nurse Chloe Crosschild is its first Indigenous patient navigator.

"To be quite frank, I am an Indigenous woman … I'm able to relate with the clients that are coming in, and can understand where they're coming from and the frustrations — but I also am trained as a registered nurse," Crosschild told The Homestretch.

"And so I understand the practices and the protocols and why those things are in place. I think sometimes what happens is that lack of communication, whether it's based on time or just not reading that the people don't understand why you're doing what you're doing as a health-care provider."

Crosschild, who is a Blackfoot from the Blood Tribe and has lived most of her life in southern Alberta, said she thinks this position will help bridge those gaps between health-care providers and Indigenous patients.

"Where it came out of really was a grassroots approach, speaking with Indigenous communities and patients and seeing where the gaps were," Crosschild said. 

In Alberta, the life expectancy of First Nations people is 10 years shorter than non-First Nations, according to AHS. The program hopes to improve that, and the health-care experience as well.

"We're going to be offering things like medical translation. So helping to sit there with the patients and families to discuss health diagnosis, provide that education in a way that makes sense to them, and especially understanding Indigenous cultural practices as well and how that might impact their care," Crosschild said. 

Crosschild has faith that this is a good time to effect change and address systemic racism.

"I think people are willing, ready and willing to listen about some of the issues that Indigenous peoples are facing in accessing health-care services," she said. "What we're hoping is that we can also provide support to health-care providers as well as Indigenous patients … about cultural sensitivity and providing culturally safe care and what that looks like."

Crosschild says Indigenous people are often reluctant to seek out health-care services, based on past negative experiences.

The recent case of Joyce Echaquan, who recorded hospital staff in Quebec insulting her in the final hours before her death, has shone a light on the long history of inequity.

"I think that it may come as a surprise to people, but that happens quite a bit where people experience individual and systemic racism when they access the health-care system. This was just caught live on Facebook," Crosschild said.

The program could be introduced in other areas of the province, based on the effectiveness of the three-year research project. But for now, Crosschild is it.

"So right now, it is me covering the entire South zone. So depending on how well I do, and how well the service goes, I think that it's definitely an opportunity to expand and to trailblaze, for other parts of the province to look at."

Crosschild said the program will be re-evaluated in 2021.

With files from The Homestretch.

With files from Tahirih Foroozan