Sudbury researcher aims to improve health outcomes for Indigenous people

A Sudbury-based Indigenous health researcher wants your help. Carrie Bourassa is looking for input from people about how to better serve Indigenous people when it comes to health care.

Carrie Bourassa says racism, stigma issues need to be addressed when caring for Indigenous people

Dr. Carrie Bourassa is the scientific director at the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health in Sudbury. (Submitted by Carrie Bourassa)

Many studies have highlighted the gap between health outcomes for Indigenous people in Canada, compared to the rest of the population.

For instance, the life expectancy for Indigenous people is about 15 years less than that of other Canadians. Indigenous people are also more likely to have hearing, sight and speech impairments and disabilities. They also experience higher rates of diabetes and a variety of other diseases.

But there's a Sudbury researcher who is trying to change those statistics.

Carrie Bourassa, the scientific director at the Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health in Sudbury, wants more focus put on Indigenous health and health equity in the hospital's new strategic plan.

She's speaking at the hospital this week as part of its strategic plan speaker series. And she's hoping those in the audience will embrace her message — and the fact that everyone has a role in improving Indigenous health care outcomes.

Bourassa says Health Sciences North's new strategic plan needs to address racism and help Indigenous patients feel at ease.

'Elephant in the room'

"Many Indigenous people do not access care because they're afraid of the racism, stigma, bias and discrimination that they're going to face," she said.

"So I think that is really the big elephant in the room that we have got to start talking about and addressing."

Bourassa adds that can prevent access for Indigenous people.

"When we talk about access to care, I think in the north in particular, we keep thinking about physical access," she said.

"The access I'm talking about is many Indigenous people do not access care because they're afraid of the racism, stigma, bias and discrimination."

Bourassa adds recruitment and retention of Indigenous staff — whether it be for research or clinical work — is critical. She says whatever model is implemented needs to work for staff and patients.

"It needs to be driven by community which of course is both embedded within cultural safety and within social accountability," she said.

Bourassa will make her presentation at the Sudbury hospital on Wednesday at 7 p.m, and again Thursday at 7 a.m.

With files from Wendy Bird, Angela Gemmill