Indigenous Cultural Partnership Program at Lois Hole Hospital for Women is Changing the Approach to Patient Care

The Lois Hole Hospital for Women is implementing an appropriate model of reconciled medicine for Indigenous patients.

By ATB Financial 9 November 2023 4 min read

The Lois Hole Hospital for Women, located in Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, has embarked on a new program aimed to enhance the care Indigenous patients and their families receive, and ATB is pleased to be supporting their work. 

For many Indigenous patients, a visit to the doctor or a hospital can invoke feelings of fear and deep anxiety, due to intergenerational trauma and impacts of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada and across the globe. Colonization has greatly impacted and affected the health and overall social, economic and cultural well-being of Indigenous Peoples. Further, many colonial-rooted medicine practices are not aligned with the Indigenous way of healing, which has led to many patients feeling unheard or uncomfortable with care. 

As a result of poor access to healthcare as well as intergenerational traumas and impacts, there are a disproportionate number of individuals in Indigenous communities presenting with a higher rate of disease, and they also experience a lower life expectancy. There is an identified urgent need to provide an environment where Indigenous Peoples can heal in a manner that resonates with their history, cultural practices, communication preferences and ways of living.

The program is a community effort, involving a number of individuals and organizations who are committed to enhancing care and listening to the needs of the community. At the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, the program is being supported by Helen Greene (Indigenous Cultural Liaison) and Dr. Cassandra Felske-Durksen (Clinical Indigenous Cultural Advisor). Together, in collaboration with members of the Indigenous community, community partners and supporters, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, Royal Alexandra Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation community and others, they are creating a profound shift in how Indigenous patients are welcomed and treated within the hospital, which will ultimately help save lives. 

Dr. Felske-Durksen, or Dr. “Cass” as she’s known, says the partnership is addressing many areas of care to help take reconciliation from conversation to action. This includes Indigenous space considerations, incorporating ceremony into events such as labour and delivery, more Indigenous representation within the physical spaces of the hospital, translation services, and trauma-informed practice training in the Lois Hole Hospital.

"By incorporating practices and elements that are familiar, we are giving our patients an opportunity to gain ownership over their bodies and give control back to the community."

Dr. Felske-Durksen (Dr. “Cass”)

Clinical Indigenous Cultural Advisor, Lois Hole Hospital for Women

A special emphasis on language and moving from a transactional relationship with patients to one that is relational is key to creating a stronger sense of security. Dr. Cass continues, “Our words are medicine and there’s spirit to them. Stories and how we speak to each other, it matters to our patients.” 

Says Quentin Sinclair, Director of Community Impact at ATB, “The Indigenous Cultural Partnership at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women is showing how the community can ensure Indigenous communities are actively included to create a patient-centered and culturally appropriate approach to care. This program is a great example of an initiative that will create meaningful change in two of our five focus areas: advancing mental health and advancing inclusive communities.” 

He adds, “ATB is pleased to support the program with a $50,000 donation, as we believe it will create a significant and lasting impact on delivering culturally appropriate medical care to Indigenous peoples.”

The Lois Hole Hospital for Women welcomes patients from up to four provinces and three territories. Further, with about 30 per cent of Indigenous Peoples in Alberta living in or near Edmonton according to recent numbers from Statistics Canada, there is proportionally a higher percentage of Indigenous Peoples seeking healthcare support. Further, the Lois Hole Hospital for Women is the main obstetrics and gynecology department for the North, and is often managing cases that are complex or presenting complications, so ensuring culturally appropriate care is vital.   

Says Morrel Wax, VP of Fund Development and Stakeholder Engagement at the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, “Our hospital supports more Indigenous populations than any other tertiary hospital in Western Canada, and we want to be at the forefront of change by incorporating Indigenous wellness and culturally appropriate engagement practices within our facility. By decolonizing our hospitals and working with patients in a culturally appropriate way, we can allow our patients to be the centre of their story and the owner of their health experience. We are grateful for ATB’s commitment to this journey.”

The Lois Hole Hospital is the first tertiary care hospital in Canada to implement an Indigenous Cultural Partnership program in Women’s Health to advance systemic change on this level, and it is the hospital’s goal to be able to expand this pilot program and allow it to serve as a model for other hospitals and clinics throughout the country. 

“There’s a lot of opportunity to do right,” says Dr. Cass. “By decolonizing the medical environment and adding Indigenous voices to the development of this project each step of the way, we can help patients reclaim their power and their story.”

To learn more about the Indigenous Cultural Partnership program and how you might be able to support please visit:

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