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Battleford Indian Health Centre Opens Expansion

Owen Einsiedler

Battleford Indian Health Centre

Born out of the ashes of the North Battleford Indian Hospital and the need to improve health services to ten surrounding bands, the Battlefords Indian Health Centre (BIHC) is ready for the challenge of the next decade with its sights firmly set on expanding its already enviable services.

Now in its tenth year of operation, BIHC is a pioneer in the Indian health care field by being the first facility of its kind established in Canada under the direct control of the Treaty Indians it serves.

From an original staff of four consisting of a hospital liaison worker, two nurses and an executive director, BIHC has grown to more than 50 full time staff operating out of an ultramodern facility located in downtown North Battleford.

Alex Kennedy Alma Favel-King Skip Brooks
Alex Kennedy Alma Favel-King Skip Brooks

From initial plans to operate a medical clinic BIHC has evolved to comprise current programs of community health, health education, dental and alcohol treatment. Correspondingly, the budget has increased from about $200,000 in 1980 to $2 million for 1988.

"Our long term priorities involve more preventative services", said executive director, Alma Favel-King. "In 1980, the Chiefs also identified the need for services to the elderly and the handicapped. We haven't really looked at them yet but we know the need is there. As well the chiefs felt that the establishment of a halfway house is a necessity to better complete our alcohol treatment program. We have been finding many of the clients in the alcohol program are not ready to go back into the community after the 28 days treatment program. We're also looking at expanding in the area of training especially alcohol counsellors."

Part of the reason for BIHC's success has been the ability to tackle one project at a time. Another reason is the support the health centre gets from its board of directors.

Because of the board we have done many creative things in program delivery. One thing that remains constant has been the dedication and support of the board for the staff.

One example of this dedication has been the establishment in 1983 of the alcohol treatment program where none existed before. An outpatient centre located in crowded quarters adjacent to the administrative centre has grown to an ultramodern $600,000 treatment facility located on Red Pheasant Reserve.

Battleford Indian Health Centre Opens Expansion

Owen Einsiedler

Opened for only a year, 132 clients from not only the North Battleford District but from Bands throughout the province have passed through the rehabilitation program. The new treatment facility was the result of an extensive needs survey conducted by BIHC.

Favel-King says positive results have already been noticed, however, "until we have education, prevention, pre-care and aftercare programs established on all the reserves in the district, it will be hard to make a realistic assessment of how effective the treatment program is operating."

The largest battle has been to gain recognition from the thousands of Indians served in the district, she admits.

BIHC had an identification problem in the minds of those it served because reserve residents saw the same nurses and community health representatives prior to the establishment of the BIHC, she says. However, BIHC spent five years transferring health staff from federal government positions to its own staff. The idea behind the move was for the board to have more control over the services BIHC provided.

"Most band members now know we work for them, they're the owners, and as well more are becoming aware of health needs and issues than ever before."

Equally, recognition has grown throughout the country as more and more white and Indian people look to BIHC's success as a model to emulate.

"We've had a lot of visitors in the last seven or eight years from across the country to find out how we got started and the programs we offer."

Favel-King says she has no doubt that parts of the BIHC model would work anywhere.

Today the eight bands of Red Pheasant, Mosquito, Moosomin, Saulteaux, Onion Lake, Little Pine, Sweet Grass, and Lucky Man comprise the BIHC board.

The secret to BIHC's success is its ability to tailor services to meet the needs of the people it serves says Joanne Meyers, assistant regional director of medical services for the Department of Health and Welfare. Speaking July 26 during BIHC's 10th Anniversary ceremonies at Red Pheasant, she cited the establishment of the alcohol treatment centre as an example because clients will no longer have to travel the same distance anymore.

"It's that kind of effort that makes the Battlefords Indian Health Centre the envy of Indian groups throughout the land."