AHS Indigenous Support Line to expand beyond north and south zones this year

Nadine McRee, Indigenous Wellness Core Project Director. Screenshot.

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Indigenous Support Line launched in May 2022 for the north and south zones, but the province’s health-care provider plans to expand its reach later this year. 

The support line, which is the first of its kind in Canada, is the product of a partnership between the AHS Indigenous Wellness Core and Health Link. 

The Indigenous Support Line’s purpose is to assist Indigenous people navigating the health-care system and to overcome barriers to their receiving culturally appropriate health care. 

Nadine McRee, the Indigenous Wellness Core’s project director, said in an AHS promotional video that the support line was conceived after an Indigenous patient in northern Alberta informed the AHS Wisdom Council of an incident at an AHS facility “that wasn’t a culturally safe experience.” 

“[The Wisdom Council] agreed that there had to be something better,” McRee said. 

The video quotes an anonymous support line caller describing the service as a “godsend.”

“I don’t know what I would have done or if I could have made it without this line. It was crucial that I be helped and I was,” they said. “[I]t made mental health services available to me when I was unable to access them.”

Gisele Backfat, a senior practice consultant at the support line, said many of its clients are in crisis or have “complex needs.” 

Those who assist them on the phone have a duty to “listen and validate their feelings” while assisting them in navigating the system, Backfat explained. 

Another anonymous caller said they are “overwhelmed” that such a support system exists. “I’m still pleasantly shocked that I’m getting a response and getting results.” 

Hope Klotz, who works at the support line, said the service is important for people who live in remote communities and “don’t have a lot of resources, or are maybe not aware of the resources they can access.” 

Cheryl Sheldon, a co-chair of the Wisdom Council and Elder Circle, said these services are necessary for those who experience racism in the health-care system, as well as those who may face language barriers. 

“They feel they aren’t being listened to, so they turn around and they go home,” Sheldon said. 

McRee said the Indigenous Support Line is intended for people who “have nowhere else to go.” There are three full-time staff working on the support line, all of whom are Indigenous health-care professionals with clinical experience.

 “It’s created this really nice balance to be able to not only provide assessment, but to have a good understanding of where Indigenous people may be coming from and be able to support them in a culturally safe way,” she added. 

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