By Kimiya Shokoohi

There have been times when birth support worker Keara Laverty has seen an Indigenous woman enter the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon, alone and ready to give birth.

It’s especially in moments such as those that Laverty, who is Métis, understands the magnitude of her role.

“Just to know that a lot of the women coming are no longer alone,” Laverty said. “Just seeing patients, when they come in, so happy that they have support.”

Laverty, along with nine other students, graduated in 2019 from the Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program at Gabriel Dumont Institute. She had come across the program while working minimum wage and was encouraged by her mother to apply. She was hired immediately upon graduation.

Earlier this week, the Gabriel Dumont Institute announced it had signed a new five-year agreement with Employment and Social Development Canada to create and deliver a Métis Public Health Service project called “Nurturing our Future.”

The investment has contributed more than $14 million toward boosting health training opportunities in the the province. Key stakeholders include Métis Nation-Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“It’s no secret right now that health careers are in very high demand and there are shortages all over the place and basically in every discipline,” said Gabriel Dumont Institute director of training and employment Audrey Hestand.

“So it was really important to us to make sure Métis people were given the opportunity to receive training in health care careers, and in a way that was respectful of their culture and who they are.”

The investment was made as part of the federal government’s Skills and Partnership Fund. The project is meant to address major shortages of skilled labour in the health sector in Saskatchewan through implementation of skill development training programs.

SHA previously partnered with GDI to employ Indigenous Birth Support Worker Program graduates in 2019, in support of of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions for increased support to Indigenous expectant mothers, families and communities.

MN-S is partnered on the initiative to provide Métis students with additional sponsorship and employment opportunities in the health sector.

“To collaborate with Canada, the SHA, and GDI on this training program means more culturally appropriate care will be provided by Métis people within our health-care system and the Métis patient experience will vastly improve,” MN-S president Glen McCallum said in a statement.

Across Canada, women and girls aged 12 years and older living in remote areas have poorer health compared to women and girls in urban centres. According to Statistics Canada, between 2015 and 2018, more than half of women and girls in Canada reported being in very good or excellent health. That number declined, however, in more remote communities, dropping from around 61 per cent to approximately 52 per cent. Among Indigenous women and girls, the numbers dropped as low as 43 per cent in remote areas.

The number of women and girls who had regular access to health-care providers was substantially lower in remote areas as well, dropping from nearly 88 per cent to 55 per cent. Among Indigenous women, that number drops as low as 35 per cent in remote areas.

In Saskatoon, when Laverty provides care to Indigenous women, especially those from rural regions, she’s heartened to know there are warm, bright and safe spaces and resources available to them.

“I had a patient who was really alone. You can see it in body langue and facial expressions,” Laverty said. “We go support them and make them feel like they are welcome here.

“It’s a place to be when you want to have your baby.”

Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.