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Helping rural, remote and Indigenous communities respond to COVID-19

A new collaborative framework will help ensure people living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities in B.C. have access to critical health care they can count on to meet their unique needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the future.  

“People living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities have unique challenges in accessing the health care they need,” said Premier John Horgan. “This new collaborative framework will bring immediate relief to these communities, including a commitment to moving patients to the critical care they need at a moment’s notice. This will help our work to stop the spread of COVID-19, while supporting better health outcomes into the future.”

The framework was developed through a partnership between the First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health and Provincial Health Services Authority. The work is guided by the principles of cultural safety and humility, and adds to work underway by the Rural Coordination Centre of BC.

The framework provides flexibility so local leaders in rural, remote and Indigenous communities can adapt it to meet their unique needs. It will be implemented through full engagement with each of the communities’ local leaders. 

The framework outlines immediate actions to improve health-care services and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • improved medical transportation options to larger centres, including flight and ambulance; 
  • housing options for people looking to self-isolate near their families while remaining in their home communities;
  • new and faster COVID-19 testing technology;
  • culturally safe contact tracing that respects privacy in small communities;
  • access to Virtual Doctor of the Day, a program that connects First Nations members and their families in remote communities to a doctor or nurse practitioner using videoconferencing;
  • options for accommodation near larger centres with more medical services; and
  • increased mental-health supports in communities.

Local leadership will determine how these services operate in their communities, with the priority being to ensure residents can make informed choices about how they receive care.

“COVID-19 is a virus that can move extremely quickly and cause a serious decline in health,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “This presents real challenges for rural, remote and Indigenous communities, for whom access to critical care may not always be close to home. We’re working with our partners to make sure people can access the health care they need, no matter where they live in the province.”

As part of this initiative, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has prepared significant additional resources to its fleet. This amounts to an additional 55 ground ambulances throughout the province, including six in Northern Health. In addition, BCEHS has prepared seven fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for medical transport. 

The faster testing methods underway include GeneXpert test kits, which take less than 45 minutes to complete. Several GeneXpert instruments are in B.C. now and are being used in First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health, Interior Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health. A priority was given to more rural and remote sites where the instruments for testing are already in place. More GeneXpert instruments will arrive in the coming weeks.

“Indigenous communities have been harder hit in past pandemics and are vulnerable to COVID-19. Elders in particular, as critical knowledge keepers and holders of language, culture and teachings, must be protected,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “Having plans and supports tailored to the unique circumstances and challenges in remote Indigenous communities will support these communities in caring for their residents.”

Written and released by BC Government

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