HALIFAX — The physician leading a new clinic in downtown Halifax says its opening marks a "pivotal moment" for urban Indigenous people's access to health care in the city.
The Wije’winen Health Centre is the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, offering culturally specific medical care to the city’s growing urban Indigenous population.
The clinic, located in the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, is led by Dr. Brent Young, an Anishnaabe family physician and academic director of Indigenous Health at Dalhousie University's medical school.
"This is a huge step forward for our community, and knowing that we're going to be able to get this service up and running off the ground on our own is a big accomplishment," Young said in an interview Thursday.
The new health centre is an innovative approach to primary care, Young said, connecting patients with the more than 50 cultural supports and services already offered by the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in tandem with medical care. The friendship centre offers services including cultural mentorship, family wellness support, substance use counselling and adult education.
"Having that type of wraparound service is not something we see throughout the primary care system presently," Young said, which he hopes will reduce the barriers urban Indigenous people in Halifax face when accessing medical care.
Indigenous people in Canada are often faced with greater challenges in areas such as employment, housing and food security, which compounds health issues and has a significant impact on a person's well-being, Young said.
"Add to this the conscious or unconscious biases Indigenous people face in health-care settings and it becomes a perfect storm of building barriers to care,” he said.
The health centre will be staffed by doctors and nurses who will offer primary care to 800 to 1,000 Indigenous people living in Halifax. The clinic began accepting new patients Friday for appointments as early as next week.
Young said the clinic's opening is "only a starting point" and he hopes to see it grow in the coming years.
The centre will open with three doctors working part time alongside a full-time nurse practitioner and a family practice nurse, and Young says recruitment is ongoing to add a fourth physician.
Funding to establish the clinic came from the National Association of Friendship Centres, and the physician funding was approved by Nova Scotia's Department of Health and Wellness through Dalhousie University's family medicine program.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press