Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Enoch Cree Nation is negotiating a contract with the Alberta government that will result in a surgical facility opening its doors in about 14 months on its territory just west of Edmonton.
It is only fitting, said Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin, pointing out that the traditional name for his First Nation is Maskêkosihk, land of medicine.
Morin was joined by Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Jason Copping on June 1 to make the announcement.
Kenney said he believed the facility would be the first of its kind to be built on a reserve in Canada.
The new facility, which will be operated in partnership with Surgical Centres Inc. and Alberta Health Services (AHS), will specialize in hip and knee replacements and other joint procedures and will offer about 3,000 such surgeries annually.
This will be a 17 per cent increase in orthopedic procedures performed in the Edmonton area compared with 2019/2020. Expected cost savings are in the range of 20 per cent for each procedure performed in the community facility rather than in a hospital, according to an Alberta government news release.
The chartered surgical facility will provide publicly-funded surgeries.
“It is urgent that we put patients, not politics, not ideology, not special interests, but patients at the heart of the healthcare system and get them the care that they need using innovative reforms like Alberta’s Surgical Initiative,” said Kenney.
Through the Alberta Surgical Initiative, the province is working to reduce surgical wait times by funding more surgeries in specialized clinics. This in turn, said Copping, will allow for “more complex surgeries” in Alberta’s hospitals.
The province has committed $133 million over three years via the Alberta Surgical Initiative to expand and build new operating rooms in hospitals across the province.
But more than a state-of-the-art facility, said Morin, this move will offer Indigenous people the opportunity to get care in a place where they can be addressed in their own languages and provided with traditional healing and medicines. It will also provide career opportunities in the health profession for Indigenous people.
“This is a long-term vision for us. This is not just one surgical centre and we’re done,” said Morin.
“When we talk about sovereign health care, we’re not talking about the publicized aspects of health care…I wouldn’t be doing my job as chief of Enoch and honouring seven generations before me for the people who signed treaty if I didn’t live up to the treaty promises. And here in Treaty 6 we have, specifically, the medicine chest clause. Our people interpret that as universal health care, bottom line,” said Morin.
Treaty 6 is the only numbered treaty to include the medicine chest clause. At the time of the signing in 1876, the First Nations in the territory were suffering from small pox and tuberculosis. The treaty addressed that concern with a medicine chest to “be kept at the house of each Indian agent for the use and benefit of the Indians…”
Morin said he didn’t want to politicize the announcement, but instead talk about partnership and finally having a “seat at the table.”
“We feel like we’re adding capacity. We feel like we’re being team players. We feel like we can add to the team of AHS, the government of Alberta, and the physicians and the nurses…We can add to that experience,” he said.
Dr. Mohamed Nanji, president and CEO of Surgical Centres Inc., said the proposal from his company and Enoch is for a facility that is “a comprehensive medical campus and compelling platform for healthcare delivery,” mixing traditional and western medicine.
“We are committed to true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and feel this is a powerful step forward,” said Nanji.
He said he was hopeful that the surgical facility would become a new service delivery model that would be embraced across Alberta and Canada.
Surgical Centres Inc. has provided surgical care on behalf of regional health authorities in western Canada for 34 years and has conducted more than half a million surgical procedures.
In November 2020, Enoch Cree Nation, along with Maskwacis Bands, Tsuut’ina Nation, Bigstone Cree Nation, Blood Tribe and Siksika Nation, received grants of $50,000 each from the province to help develop proposals for chartered surgical facilities. The only proposal to come forward at this point is from Enoch.
“Other First Nations can offer bids on future Alberta Health Services requests for proposals that they feel are appropriate to their community. The initial grants are ongoing for Nations who are continuing to use the funds to conduct community needs assessments and develop potential proposals,” said AHS spokesperson Charity Wallace.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.