New Health Liaison Connects Aboriginal Community to Health care
Aboriginal Health Liaison, Stephanie Sack brings a personal viewpoint to her job, newly created in Fort McMurray for Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“I’m excited about this position because I’m proud to say I’m First Nations – I’ve walked in their shoes and, when someone speaks to me about the power of the drum, or the seven sacred teachings, I know what they’re talking about,” says Sack.
As an Aboriginal Health Liaison, Sack helps promote awareness of programs and services available to the aboriginal community in Fort McMurray, and assists in ensuring these programs and services are accessible. Sack also works to ensure that the programs and services available reflect the health care needs of the aboriginal community.
Sack says her role “is to help guide the aboriginal population through our healthcare system and hopefully connect them in a personal way that makes their journey through the process easier and more comfortable.”
The Aboriginal Health Liaison position complements a similar position at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre. The new role came about following a Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by AHS’s Department of Public Health in Fort McMurray in 2008. The assessment identified a number of challenges facing populations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
The aboriginal population was identified with health risks that were higher than average, including obesity, diabetes, health and respiratory disease, along with high rates of exposure to and use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This position has had successful outcomes in other Northern Alberta communities such as Grande Prairie, Peace River and Lac La Biche.
In 2012, Finning Canada, understanding the issues facing aboriginal people, committed $200,000 over four years to the Northern Lights Health Foundation to fund this critical position.
Finning Canada, headquartered in Edmonton, does a significant amount of business within the Fort McMurray area. As the Caterpillar dealer for Western Canada, the company sells, rents and provides customer support services for Cat equipment and operates in British Columbia, Yukon, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and areas of Nunavut.
Finning takes great pride in giving back and dedicates resources to meet the needs of the communities they operate in.
“As an employer of more than 1,000 people in the oil sands, we take health and safety very seriously. In fact, our commitment to health and safety influences everything we do – even this donation,” says Brent Davis, Vice President Oil Sands for Finning.
With substantial dealings in Fort McMurray, funding the Aboriginal Health Liaison position proved a perfect fit for Finning’s support.
Davis explains, “This donation is about more than writing a cheque, it’s about making a long-term investment in the community by funding a position that will improve and increase healthcare for aboriginal people in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and limit the need to travel elsewhere for care.”
“The overall goal of the new position is to help raise awareness of aboriginal people within their population, among AHS staff, community organizations and within our business community here in Fort McMurray,” says Jordanna Lambert, Area Manager, Public Health, AHS North Zone. “More importantly, we need to give them a voice. We need to advocate on their behalf and hopefully give them the skills to self-advocate in the future.”
Sack, who began her new position at the beginning of October 2013, is from the Mi’kmaq nation in Nova Scotia. She lived on the Indian Brook First Nations reserve about 45 minutes outside of Halifax, close to the small town of Shubenacadie. Working as a Maternal Child Health Advisor until moving to Fort McMurray two years ago, Sack brings a wealth of valuable experience to the table.
“I can relate and that’s important,” says Sack.
“Recruiting for this role was a challenge. We needed someone who not only knows our health care system, but who also understands the needs of aboriginal people and can promote their cultural awareness,” says Lambert.
In her role, Sack promotes healthy lifestyles through presentations to community organizations and helps connect aboriginal people with services they may need. This includes parenting programs, wellness initiatives and the health clinic at the Centre of Hope, which focuses on the needs of the homeless population. She also ensures they’re aware of the need to keep healthy habits, such as keeping up to date on immunizations and influenza shots.
Susanne Chaffey, Executive Director for the Northern Lights Health Foundation is thrilled with this new role in the community. “Our aboriginal population is an important part of the fabric in our society and Stephanie has done a fabulous job creating community connections,” says Chaffey.
“It’s critical that we provide the aboriginal population the support and assistance they need to access health services and we are delighted that Finning has made this possible.”
For more information on our programs and services, or to make a gift, contact us:
Northern Lights Health Foundation
7 Hospital Street,
Fort McMurray, AB T9H 1P2
Phone: (780) 791-6041
Fax: (780) 791-6241
Northern Lights Health Foundation
Charitable Registration Number: BN 107395030 RR0001