By Gail Johnson | Photography by Brian Smith
For the past five years, the Indigenous Health team at St. Paul’s, led by Neil Fowler (pictured, above right) and overseen by Christopher De Bono (above left), PHC’s senior executive for Indigenous Wellness, has been working at the All-Nations Sacred Space to provide opportunities for traditional healing for Indigenous people receiving care at St. Paul’s Hospital and within the larger community. The space, open 24 hours a day, has become the site of healing ceremonies, talking circles, feasts, and gatherings.
Why is it so important to include traditional healing within the hospital?
Fowler: We know that the Indigenous view of health and wellness is a holistic one. Patients are grateful to come to a hospital that recognizes this and sees the value in incorporating the use of traditional healing and medicines into a care plan if it is important to the patient’s journey to wellness.
What is it about St. Paul’s specifically that draws Indigenous people to seek their care here?
De Bono: We are well known within the Indigenous community as a destination that is working very hard to provide a safe place for Indigenous people; one that allows them to feel welcome and to fully participate in the care they need. We entered into a partnership with the First Nations Health Authority to ensure that culturally safe and appropriate care is present in every health service across the province.
How does the compassionate culture at St. Paul’s make a difference with our Indigenous patients?
Fowler: The compassionate culture that exists at St Paul’s is the reason I am able to do the work I do, and I see the positive impact of this every day. Our organization recognizes that there is a lot of work to do for reconciliation to truly happen; having this Sacred Space, and the support of our Indigenous health workers, Rebecca Hatch and Jason Cook, is critical to that work. When fellow staff see the positive benefits of connecting patients with our team, they reach out to us more, and our patients reap the benefits of this additional cultural support.
Why is integrating Indigenous knowledge into health care so important?
De Bono: We see and recognize huge disparities in health with Indigenous people. Transforming the care they receive by working collaboratively with Indigenous people is a matter of social justice and is key to creating equitable care for all.
What role does PHC’s mission have in improving the health and wellness of Indigenous people?
De Bono: Indigenous communities and PHC have a strong sense of holistic care and deep spiritual grounding. While there may be differences in how these things are expressed, we both have a common language of the dignity and sacredness of the human person, the importance of helping people in need, and asking questions of inclusion, just like the Sisters of Providence first did.