Indigenous gathering space opens at West Coast General Hospital

Port Alberni, BC

Close to fifty people filled the atrium at West Coast General Hospital (WCGH) on Oct. 11 to witness a ceremonial grand opening of the All Nations Room—a welcoming space developed for Aboriginal patients and their families.

The All Nations Room is a space where families can gather to share traditional healing practices and ceremonies, such as prayer and ritual cleansing.

The West Coast General Hospital Cultural Safety Committee proposed an All Nations Room at WCGH in 2014. Representatives from the Tseshaht, Hupacasath, Uchucklesaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, three local health service providers, Island Health and the First Nations Health Authority worked together to turn the room into reality. The West Coast General Hospital Foundation provided $10,000 to furnish the space.

“What I heard at the table is it was really importable for people to have a space where they can practice their ways and be able to share each other’s medicines,” said Janice Johnson, community engagement coordinator with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA). “It’s a room that’s really needed…it’s been in the works for a long time. It’s basically a safe space for people to gather and for others to learn about who we are.”

The room is located near the cafe in the main lobby of WCGH and features a kitchenette, and space for food preparation.

 The grand opening included song, dance and drumming by Nuu-chah-nulth people and a ribbon cutting.

“The All Nations Room reflects a commitment from Island Health to ensure that First Nations people and other Indigenous peoples feel welcomed and respected when they come to West Coast General Hospital,” said Ian Knipe, director of Aboriginal health for Island Health.

Brennan MacDonald, executive director with the FNHA, said the relationships built through the planning process and Cultural Safety Committee have been very valuable and have helped create a space for important conversations and future collaborations towards cultural safety.

“Cultural safety is a priority that our nations have spoken clearly about and improvements to experiences of care, particularly in our hospitals, is something that they care deeply for,” MacDonald said. “Seeing all of the partners come together in support of starting to bring about positive change like what we witnessed today is really a positive occasion but it’s also a first step. There’s much more we get to do together.”

Sheila Leadbetter, executive director of clinical services at Island Health, said All Nations Rooms are being developed in each Island community where there’s a hospital.

“We also have a regional project committee where we come together and share this important work and strategize on our plans for culturally safe care throughout our whole health care system,” Leadbetter said. “Island Health senior leadership is fully committed to improving care experiences for Indigenous populations on Vancouver Island.”

During a speech, Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president, said the addition of the All Nations Room is helping to make “the hospital our own.”

 “When we go to visit someone who’s sick we bring them medicine, we bring them that love and that caring that they need to get better,” Sayers said. “I think there’s a lot more work that could be done...let’s make this place our own.”

Sayers also mentioned that because First Nations people typically have larger families, having a space that can accommodate all of them is really important.

The All Nations Room is available 24/7 on a first come first serve basis.

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