Indigenous

What's in the works for Indigenous health care services in Toronto

Toronto is home to the largest, most diverse urban Indigenous population in Ontario and Indigenous people often experience gaps in health care services that properly serve their physical, mental and spiritual well being. Here's what's in the works in Toronto's Indigenous health services for 2020.

Ground to be broken on new Indigenous health care facility in 2020

Rendering of the new Anishnawbe Health Facility that is set to break ground in Toronto in 2020. ( Stantec and Two Row Architects)

The start of construction for a new health facility, expanding on midwifery services and fundraising to bring a teepee to hospital property are some of the developments in Indigenous health care in Toronto coming in the new year. 

Toronto is home to the largest, most diverse urban Indigenous population in Ontario and Indigenous people often experience gaps in health care services that properly serve their physical, mental and spiritual well being. 

A report released in 2016 by Well Living House, a group of Indigenous health researchers, found that lack of access to a regular health care service provider and discrimination from providers are major barriers experienced by Indigenous people. 

There are several Indigenous organizations in Toronto that are working to break down these barriers to better serve the urban Indigenous population, which Well Living House estimates to be around 70,000 people — significantly higher than reported in the 2016 census. 

A new Indigenous health care facility 

For over 20 years, Joe Hester has been working to build a new health facility in Toronto to better serve the urban Indigenous community. 

In the third quarter of 2020, that project will finally break ground and construction will begin on 2.4 acres of land in the West Don Lands. 

Hester, executive director of Anishnawbe Health Toronto, said it's gratifying to see the project finally come together.

'Projects of this nature can inspire what is possible for our people, particularly in urban environments,' says Joe Hester, executive director of Anishnawbe Health Toronto. (Stantec and Two Row Architects)

Anishnawbe Health Toronto has been a community health centre since 1989. Its services, which include primary health care, mental health care and family services, are spread across three locations across the city.

There has been a lot of growth since the organization first opened its doors but Hester said the downside is that patients have had to travel to different locations if they need to access multiple services. 

"In terms of integrating traditional approaches and Western approaches to health care, it's better accomplished and achieved when you're at one location," said Hester. 

The new health facility will provide all of its current services in one spot but will also provide entrepreneurial space, a medicine garden, a sweat lodge and residential housing on the property. The facility will also be built to ensure there is a connection to land and ceremony, featuring healing gardens and therapeutic spaces.

There is a fundraising goal of $10 million, which has nearly been met, Hester said. 

Midwifery clinic wraps up research project

Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto is a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous midwives that offer maternity care to women and families within Toronto. 

Going into 2020, it will wrap up a three-year research project in collaboration with other groups called the Baby Bundle project, which is looking at barriers and challenges that pregnant Indigenous people face, in order to improve services. 

The clinic is setting up a partnership with an Indigenous family doctor in the new year who will be coming in every two weeks for clients that are looking for ongoing care. 

Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto is a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous midwives that offer maternity care to women and families within Toronto. (Radio-Canada)

The clinic has been serving the city since 2006 and has an emphasis on serving Indigenous patients but accepts non-Indigenous ones as well, providing support through pregnancy, labour, birth and the first six weeks postpartum. 

"When we look at the traditional role of Indigenous midwives, it's not limited to just looking after somebody in pregnancy and birth and postpartum. It's really looking at community health and well-being," said Cheyllee Bourgeois, a Métis midwife with the clinic. 

"The way that we approach things is to try and think of how we can look after people during this time as primary care providers, but what other things can we be doing to be promoting community health in a wider sense." 

She helped to establish Seventh Generation Midwives while still in school and has been working at the clinic since graduating in 2007. 

Teepee on hospital property

The Aboriginal Healing Program of the East Toronto Health Network provides group counselling both in a group and individual sessions and has community feasts and ceremonies as well.

"We help to build healing journeys," said Elder Little Brown Bear, who runs the program. 

"Part of it is is you heal the person, then you heal their families and then their families will heal the communities and the communities will heal the nation." 

In August this year, the program hosted a ceremonial opening of the first sweat lodge on hospital grounds in Toronto at Michael Garron Hospital. 

'We help to build healing journeys,' says Elder Little Brown Bear, who runs the Aboriginal Healing Program. (Rhiannon Johnson/ CBC)

Moving into the new year, the Aboriginal Healing Program is fundraising to purchase a teepee that will go on the hospital property as well. 

"Part of that teepee is for storytelling for me but also community members will be able to do storytelling for the children and for the schools," said Elder Little Brown Bear. 

Another project in the works to be completed in 2024 when construction is finished on the new wing of Michael Garron Hospital, will be a smudge room in the hospital. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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