Montreal has a new urgent care clinic geared specifically toward Indigenous people. It’s something advocates have been trying to get off the ground for years.
“There is already a waiting list of people that are like, ‘Oh my god, you’re open, great.’ The need is there,” said Dominick Raven Mikkelson, administrative assistant at the new Indigenous Health Centre of Tiotihà:ke (IHCT).
Mikkelson could hardly contain his excitement as he installed a new banner on the door of the clinic, which is on the second floor of the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
As a two-spirit Indigenous person, he knows how important it is for the centre to finally be operational.
“For somebody who is Indigenous, it’s not always easy just to go to an urgent care clinic because you face stuff like racism,” Mikkelson explained.
The clinic’s physician Dr. Sean Yaphe has been trying to make the concept a reality for over a decade.
“It’s really exciting,” he said.
Yaphe says the clinic will be able to serve Indigenous people in their languages, which could be a huge barrier to them getting proper care in the health system.
“A lot of people also do not necessarily have a RAMQ (health insurance) card. They’re coming from reserves with their status card and then don’t have that RAMQ card to really access care. So a lot of people are denied access. So that’s where we said ‘this is what the need is, we need this.'”
Lynn Pathwalker Bourque is the IHTC’s Indigenous health navigator, and well help people deal with the administrative intricacies of getting care.
“Let’s face it, even those who are not, Indigenous peoples express being intimidated or feeling intimidated by the health-care system,” she said, explaining how hard it can be for people who have come from remote communities to seek care in Montreal.
Because of discrimination, many just stay away from the medical system as their health deteriorates.
At IHTC, community members will find a safe, inclusive space that will blend western medicine with traditional healing.
“Yes, it’s an urgent care clinic, but it’s a link to also the medicines that are specific to Indigenous people,” explained IHTC executive director Michelle Reis-Amores.
It’s a formula that’s worked in other Canadian cities like Ottawa and Vancouver for years now.
“In Vancouver, about three or four years ago, two separate health centres for urban Indigenous have taken flight and they’re extremely busy,” said Reis-Amores.
The team at the new facility says it took far longer than expected to get government funding to open the IHTC.
“The funding to build and create this came out of the death of Joyce Echaquan, essentially,” said Yaphe.
In 2020, 37-year-old mother Joyce Echaquan was subjected to racist taunts by health-care staff in Joliette as she lay dying in hospital. The founders say the fallout from her death helped them get money from Quebec.
“It took a pretty traumatic experience to have a light bulb shine in the government’s eyes,” said Yaphe.
The doctor is only available one morning per week for now, but they’re hoping to keep expanding the operation with new hires. The ultimate goal to create a full fledged medical facility.