For many Indigenous residents of Vancouver, good, consistent health care is not easy to find.
That’s why Lu’ma Native Housing Society decided to bring healthcare to their community by opening the Lu’ma Medical Centre, to provide medical service by Indigenous people, to Indigenous people.
“Indigenous people need to know there is a place where they can get their health needs attended to,” said Marjorie White, Vice President of Lu’ma. “People are thankful that they have a clinic with Indigenous doctors that understand their health, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Not all medical professionals understand where those issues come from and how to address them.”
Central City Foundation donors honour our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and seek opportunities to support Aboriginal social services. We provided funding to our community partner, Lu’ma, to enable them to purchase furniture for their reception room, including colourful chairs and fun toys for children to play while they wait.
“We reached out to a number of funders for assistance and Central City Foundation was really receptive to our needs,” said White. “We were fortunate to receive the funding so we could put in that extra touch that makes the space so welcoming like the play area for the children. People feel like this is a place to heal.”
Lu’ma is a part of a network of organizations working to improve the health of urban Aboriginal people. Central City Foundation has partnered with several of these organizations, including Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA) and the Vancouver Native Health Society (VNHS). We recently supported UNYA by providing funding for the furnishing of their new Wellness Hub. We also funded a major renovation of the Phil Bouvier Family Centre, which is one of our social purpose real estate buildings. The renovation updated the facility in which VNHS operates a daycare and many health and community services.
Indigenous people in Vancouver face more barriers to receiving health care than the non-Indigenous population. Accessing consistent primary care is a challenge as family physicians are difficult to find, especially in some parts of the city. As well, many medical professionals do not understand the background of First Nations patients and how the legacy of colonization and the residential school system impacts their current health.
Dr. Alexandra King is an internal medicine specialist who has helped solidify Lu’ma’s approach to health care and establish how it fits within the larger community. She works with patients like Garnet Henry, who is living with a critical illness.
Garnet was diagnosed with multiple health conditions, including HIV, and was struggling to take care of himself. Dr. King assigned him a peer navigator who accompanies him to specialist visits, ensuring he understands what the doctor is saying and asks questions on his behalf when necessary.
“It starts with engagement within primary care,” said King. “It is hard for everyone to get a family doctor who not only works on your health, but your wellness. The family doctor makes the referral, and the research shows that Indigenous people are given fewer referrals. Most specialists work in hospitals, which from an Indigenous perspective are part of the colonization process, so they are foreign environments to many of us and having to go there to see a doctor is a stressful experience.”
Dr. King’s vision for Lu’ma is to have specialists working within the clinic so patients do not have to travel to other locations, reducing the chance for breakdowns in patient care. Meeting patients where they are at and helping them navigate the healthcare system can have a very positive impact on the lives of Indigenous people.
“It is truly meaningful what these people are doing for our people,” said Garnet, who says his health complications are now manageable. “I love coming here because you can talk about how you are feeling, work on it, and go home with a really nice attitude.”