Saskatchewan

Chronic illness, addiction, mental health all focus in medical outreach initiative

An organization that works with Indigenous communities and groups around Saskatchewan is looking to introduce a new care model. 

Wellness Wheel takes a community-led approach to provide Indigenous people with services

The Indigenous Wellness Research Community Network and Wellness Wheel Outreach Clinic officially launched on Friday. (Liam Avison / CBC)

An organization that works with Indigenous communities and groups around Saskatchewan is looking to introduce a new care model. 

The Indigenous Wellness Research Community Network and Wellness Wheel Medical Outreach Clinic is focusing on community-led approaches and partnerships, which Dr. Stuart Skinner said will "bring care as close to the community as possible."

The group hosted a gathering in Regina on Friday to launch the initiative. 

"We are a mobile clinic and a research arm," JoLee Sasakamoose, the group's research director said. "We actually do [Hepatitis] C, HIV intervention in the communities; we actually go into the community and do testing for chronic disease and other issues."

Sasakamoose said the wellness clinic needs to exist along side the provincial health system.

She said physicians were hosting clinics in urban areas but Indigenous people weren't attending, despite the fact that they're dying from high rates of HIV.

"The solution was to go into the communities and find out what we could do to improve that," she said. "It was actually to bring the doctors and nurses into the communities and serve them there."

Community-directed care

She said bringing the workers right to the community wasn't enough, though. Doctors and nurses also received cultural sensitivity and relationship-building training to ensure they were friendly enough, and building genuine relationships with their patients.

She said the Wellness Wheel group is also led and directed by the communities in terms of the kind of care they want and need. 

Saskamoose said the clinic started out through addressing HIV on-reserve through testing, but it has since expanded to a model that looks at hepatitis, diabetes along with mental health and addictions. 

The clinic staff try to blend together holistic, Indigenous practises with the western idea that health is the absence of disease. 

"What has to happen is the western model has to come up to speed with the Indigneous model," Sasakamoose said. 

She said while the clinics that are hosted are typically on Indigenous land, they are open to non-Indigenous people where available.