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London partnership provides culturally safe dental services for Indigenous people

The Middlesex London Health Unit at 50 King St. will be shared with the Southwest Aboriginal Health Access Centre.
The Middlesex London Health Unit at 50 King St. will be shared with the Southwest Aboriginal Health Access Centre. Global News

Indigenous communities will have greater access to culturally safe dental services in London and surrounding area because of a new partnership between the Southwest Aboriginal Health Access Centre (SOAHAC) and the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU).

The dental clinic at the public health unit’s 50 King Street location is now being shared by both organizations, starting on Tuesday.

“This is actually a sharing of power, this is asking our Indigenous partners to lead and tell us what they need, and us supporting exactly what their vision is,” said medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie, during the announcement of the partnership on Monday.

Brian Dokis, CEO of SOAHAC, told 980 CFPL, how access to services has been a huge barrier between Indigenous people and health care.

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“Many of the dental services don’t want to take on Indigenous clients, the billing system is not something they like, many want them to pay the services up front but they just don’t have the means of paying for dental services up front so I think a lot of people are avoiding going to the dentists,” he explained.

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Dokis said the MLHU has been invested in creating a true partnership with Indigenous communities, and that SOAHAC has felt appreciated and heard throughout the process so far.

Discussions about a collaboration began last fall, when the Health Unit adjusted its programs to focus on preventative services. With treatment and space available, the MLHU approached SOAHAC to gauge interest in establishing a downtown dental office focused on Indigenous oral health.

“We wanted to increase our oral health services,” said Dokis.

“This was just a perfect opportunity to do that.”

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After Monday’s announcement, community representatives and staff from the MLHU and SOAHAC did a smudging ceremony at the dental clinic.

“The Health Unit is developing a plan to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action in a meaningful way,” said Mackie.

“Today‚Äôs announcement is a demonstration of our commitment to working with, and seeking direction from local First Nations and Indigenous-led organizations.”

*With files from 980 CFPL’s Jaclyn Carbone