New Ottawa Hospital campus should include Inuit “cultural navigators,” report says
“Young people have a natural endowment—a skill set that could play a key role"
Inuit youth could end up working as “cultural navigators” to help improve the experiences of Nunavut patients at the Ottawa Hospital’s forthcoming $2-billion Civic campus, if the hospital follows the recommendations of a recent report.
Nearly 3,000 Inuit from the Baffin region arrive every year in Ottawa for medical treatment.
The report, which focuses on the needs of Inuit, is entitled “Stronger Voices, Better Care” and was released in January. It sums up recommendations compiled by consultant Dr. Don Lenihan of Middle Ground Policy Research Inc.
During several months of consultations, participants in focus groups suggested that youth could serve as intermediaries or “cultural navigators” for elders.
Several called on the hospital to work with the Government of Nunavut to develop a plan or strategy to engage and train youth for this.
More young people need to be involved in health care, they said.
“Young people have a natural endowment—a skill set—that could play a key role,” states the report. “If the 21st century calls for hospitals that are highly engaged with their patients and fully integrated with the communities they serve, these young people are a stepping stone.”
As cultural navigators, youth could help the hospital respond effectively to the cultural needs of the older generation of Inuit, the report states.
Such training could be achieved in a variety of ways, including courses at Nunavut Arctic College or new “apprenticeship” or “mentorship” programs in organizations like the Ottawa Health Services Network Inc. or the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team.
This idea came from consultations that included meetings and interviews with members of the Inuit health-care community, including community spokespersons, health-care stakeholders of all sorts, and hospital officials, as well as three days of interviews in Iqaluit.
Inuit should also train hospital staff to recognize and respond to the cultural needs of Inuit in their care and participate in cultural events and programs, the report states.
The goal would be to improve care and enable Inuit patients to better understand their illness and treatment.
“Doctors may ask a litany of questions regarding medical tests, procedures, and treatments. Where decisions are required, the patient may be at a loss to respond,” the report states.
“He or she may feel the need to connect with family members to seek their advice and support, yet the situation forces them to act alone. This not only conflicts with their lived experience, but it also could compromise their capacity to provide informed consent.”
The report also suggests more online communication via social media, as well as the production of Inuktitut videos on aspects of patient care.
And it also raises the need to help Inuit find their way around Ottawa and to help arrivals feel more at home in the city.
This would see more family-centred services and support for patients who are shut off from their communities: “The effects can be debilitating, and our participants urged that more be done to help patients adjust to this loss when they come to Ottawa for treatment.”
The call for more family-oriented services in Ottawa was also raised by Richard Paton, who is undergoing treatment for cancer there, in a recent Nunatsiaq News story.
The report also suggests aesthetic improvements for the future Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital campus, such as Inuit art decorations in its rooms and public spaces, in addition to Inuit involvement in its eventual opening, which will be in 2026.
Access to country foods is also part of the report’s vision for the future hospital. And, because, according to the report, 80 per cent of Inuit patients smoke cigarettes and/or marijuana, a “plan is needed for how these activities will be approached in future in an appropriate and respectful way.”
The southern flow of patients from Nunavut is unlikely to stop, as was once envisioned through the development of telehealth, the report says.
“A health-care professional from Nunavut told us that he has tried for years to raise interest in telehealth, but with little success. The system, he said, is badly designed and almost impossible to use,” the report states.
That health care professional said that a functional telehealth system would require new technology and that to succeed the Ottawa Hospital and the Nunavut government would have to join forces to “change the culture around doctor-patient consultations.”
The new Ottawa Hospital Civic campus will be the location of eastern Ontario’s Regional Trauma Centre, and will provide specialized care for patients in Ottawa, eastern Ontario, western Quebec, and Nunavut.
The Ottawa Health Services Network, through the Ottawa Hospital and other agencies, has provided out-of-territory health services to the Qikiqtani region of Nunavut since 1998, when the now-defunct Baffin Regional Health Board ended its contract with the McGill group in Montreal.
The report on Inuit in the lead-up to the new campus is one of three to be done with Indigenous peoples. The next reports will cover the needs of First Nations and Métis.