Alberta Health Services: Research aims to improve Indigenous health outcomes

January 31, 2019

LETHBRIDGE – Alberta Health Services (AHS) has launched a three-year research project designed to help Indigenous people navigate the health system in order to improve patient outcomes and address health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

The Indigenous Patient Navigation Model: A Novel Approach is being co-designed by AHS teams and numerous Indigenous stakeholders. Indigenous people in the province are twice as likely to suffer from liver cancer and diabetes, and three times as likely to attempt suicide as non-Indigenous people according to a 2017 Alberta First Nations Information Governance Centre report.

“All Albertans, no matter where they live, deserve access to high-quality health services when and where they need them,” says Alberta’s Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman. “We are committed to working with Indigenous communities and peoples to improve health outcomes. Important projects such as this one help us strengthen relationships with Indigenous peoples and communities, so that we can work together to meet their needs.”

The research project is supported by $1.4 million in grant funding from the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS), a partnership between AHS and Alberta Innovates.

“No one can speak to the challenges faced by Alberta’s Indigenous peoples better than they can,” said Katherine Chubbs, Chief Zone Officer for AHS South Zone. “In developing the proposal for the research project, we engaged a broad-based steering committee made up of Indigenous patients and elders, municipal leaders, health providers, academics and community organizations. Together, we will design truly workable and effective solutions.”

Indigenous patients and families expressed frustration with the health system during community engagement sessions held in the South Zone three years ago.

“They said they were unaware of or overwhelmed by the range of services offered, and unsure of how to access those services,” says Chubbs. “Engagement participants identified that a patient navigation service could address some of those challenges.”

Part of the project will involve the creation of two Indigenous Navigator positions for AHS South Zone. The navigators will have a clinical background, either as a nurse or social worker, in order to help patients move through the health system and, if needed, to act as a liaison to help foster understanding between medical staff and Indigenous patients.

Dr. Melissa Potestio, Scientific Director for AHS’ Population, Public and Indigenous Health Strategic Clinical Network, says the project builds on the trust and strong working relationships South Zone has maintained with local Indigenous communities through ongoing engagement with the departments of health on the Kainai and Piikani First Nations and the urban Indigenous population.

“This is not just a new service,” says Dr. Potestio, who is co-leading the project with Chubbs.

“This is a robust research project that will examine the effectiveness of co-designing a navigation model, the impact on health outcomes and inequities, and how the model could be adapted for other jurisdictions.”

Kevin Cowan, CEO of the Blood Tribe Department of Health, credits AHS South Zone for demonstrating an ongoing commitment to providing innovative services for the First Nations band.

“Patient navigation services are vital – even those of us who know the health system well sometimes have difficulty navigating its complexities,” says Cowan. “This program will provide a sensitive approach to assisting Indigenous patients to overcome the challenges and break through barriers often associated with obtaining appropriate healthcare.”

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman, a member of the project’s steering committee, is optimistic the project will benefit the community. “Addressing the inequities experienced by Indigenous people, including gaps in the health system, represents movement along the path toward reconciliation,” he says. “This project will put the South Zone on the provincial research radar.”

Sandra Stabel, Program Manager with Alberta Innovates, praises the navigation model and those behind it. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support a team that is challenging the status quo on how our health system interacts with Alberta’s Indigenous peoples using a co-design approach,” she says.

Twelve to 18 months into the project, a stakeholder session will gather feedback to see if any refinements are needed. Another session will be held at the end of the project to report on the results and to discuss next steps, sustainability and the potential to spread the model throughout the province.

Alberta Innovates invests in research, innovation and entrepreneurship to drive provincial economic growth and diversity. We ignite the power of innovation through our work with researchers, industry and entrepreneurs to move Alberta to a lower-carbon future, enhance the responsible use of land and water, and contribute to the improved health and well-being of Albertans. Alberta Innovates provides technical expertise, entrepreneurial advice and support, opportunities for partnerships, and funding to advance the best ideas. We support a broad range of research and innovation activity – from discovery to use. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do – bringing together bright minds and great ideas to drive innovation.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

For media inquiries, contact:

Patrick Burles
AHS Communications, South Zone
403-388-6535 / 403-635-9215 (cell)


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