To ensure the diverse and unique needs of First Nations patients are being met, the Simcoe Muskoka Regional Cancer Program at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) has added an aboriginal patient navigator to the team.
The role, along with the existing role of regional aboriginal cancer lead currently held by Connie Foster, supports RVH’s commitment to providing the best patient experience possible by addressing the traditional culture and beliefs of First Nations people.
Now, when First Nations patients walk through the doors at RVH, they are greeted by Leah Bergstrome, the aboriginal patient navigator, and walked through the system of care.
The position is an element in Cancer Care Ontario’s (CCO) Aboriginal Cancer Strategy, which strives to improve health outcomes and the quality of life for aboriginal people with cancer.
“The aboriginal people have experienced 500 years of oppression, which has created a culture of fear. To come to a government institution, like a hospital, is to face that fear, which often prevents them from seeking the help they need,” Bergstrome, a member of the Métis nation, said in a press release.
Bergstrome provides and co-ordinates culturally and spiritually relevant support for aboriginal patients and their families throughout their cancer journey.
“It’s not just the process of navigating the cancer system that is important, it’s doing so with respect for the original people of these lands and their worldview,” said Lindsey Crawford, vice-president of patient programs and regional vice-president of CCO. “Leah uses narrative medicine, including history and stories, to support patients in their healing process, as well as the teachings of the medicine wheel. Having her here is in keeping with our My Care philosophy, which puts our patients and their families first and promises to provide them with the most positive patient experience.”
Bergstrome is the main contact for the people of Beausoleil First Nation on Christian Island, Moose Deer Point First Nation in MacTier, Wahta, Mohawks of Bala, Chippewas of Rama as well as the urban aboriginal population. She regularly visits the communities to build or, in some cases, rebuild relationships and trust in the health-care system. She offers patients support to access health-care services at home, co-ordinates traditional and non-traditional resources and healing, provides counselling before, during and after appointments, is an advocate for the patient and is there to ensure patients’ wishes are respected for end-of-life care.
Most importantly, she is a friendly face when an aboriginal person walks in the health centre.
“Just knowing there is someone here for them can reduce anxiety. I’m a friend who can take their hand and walk with them along their path,” she said. “This is just part of the movement among aboriginal people to reclaim their health and their access to health care and RVH is there to help them along that journey.”