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Closing the gaps between non-indigenous and First Nations health care is being urged by hundreds of Canadian nurses gathered in Calgary this week.
But as 1,200 Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions discuss that issue, it comes against a background of rising violence directed at nurses in their workplace, said CFNU president Linda Silas.
“Nurses suffer more injuries in the workplace than police officers do,” said Silas, a critical care and maternity nurse who hails from New Brunswick.
Canadian nurses say the incidents are under-reported and often ignored.
But CFNU delegates at their June 5 to 9 biannual convention in Calgary are also tackling what have been described as shocking shortfalls in the medical care and health of First Nations people.
At a session Wednesday, delegates discussed sky-high diabetes and suicide rates among indigenous people, as well as a life expectancy seven to 15 years lower than the general population, said Silas.
Learning more about why these conditions persist and how to address them is vital, she said, particularly when dealing with substandard care provided to First Nations children.
“It’s ensuring indigenous children receive the same (care) as non-indigenous (children). … We’re doing some things wrong and it’s time we realized it,” said Silas.
“The key message is to have open ears and open hearts and not be shy — too often, we don’t want to ask indigenous leaders because we don’t want to sound stupid.”
Access to treatment in remote, rural parts of the country, particularly to high-tech and specialized services, are an issue facing not just First Nations but other Canadians, she said.
One way quality of care is being improved on reserves, she said, is the use of long-distance nursing education for indigenous students.
“These people were able to stay at home and it enables recruitment in their communities,” said Silas.
For now, much of the nursing on remote First Nations involves practitioners from the outside devoting limited periods of time on government contracts, she noted.
“You’re better off building educational programs,” said Silas.
Other issues being addressed at the convention is nursing short-staffing, the need for a national prescription drug plan and the importance of qualified nurses.