A health services contract soon to be awarded to an Indigenous-led medical supply company puts local Nations at the economic table — and in the operating room.
The partnership, nearly two years in the making, is a deal between an Indigenous-owned business and the Provincial Health Services Authority to provide Indigenous-branded medical gloves to Northern and Interior health authorities in an agreement dubbed the “reconciliation glove project.”
“This is a little bit about business, but it’s more about reconciliation,” said James Hiebert, a member of the Mohawk Nation’s Turtle clan and president of Medical, Surgical and Safety Supplies (MSS) Ltd., an Indigenous-owned and operated Northwest Territories medical supply firm.
“Part of reconciliation is economic reconciliation, and that means getting Indigenous groups on the road to self-determination,” said Hiebert.
Indigenous-led health-care partnerships are crucial to improving access, care and outcomes, according to the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada, and that includes strengthening community ownership, and building partnerships that lead to self-determination.
A 2020 report, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health Care, found that more than two-thirds of Indigenous respondents to the review’s Indigenous Peoples Survey said they had experienced discrimination based on their ancestry.
“Every box of these gloves has the Indigenous bear on it, a symbol that represents cultural awareness. It shows everyone who walks into the room the steps that the B.C. government is taking to live up to their commitment,” said Hiebert.
MSS, a certified social enterprise, is committing 51 per cent of the net proceeds to Indigenous communities in the Northern and Interior Health regions, including the Lheidli T’enneh and Osoyoos Nations.
Allan Stroet, manager of economic development for the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, called it a win-win for the province, the citizens of B.C. and their Nation.
“It’s taking tax dollars and keeping them local, and the Nations will receive revenues for daycare, housing, education.”
Banjo Lekovic, director of lands with the Osoyoos Indian Band, said: “It’s going to be a massive benefit for our community. We’re never allowed at the table. Anywhere. We’re not allowed to participate in the economy of Canada. This is a terrific start.”
“As Indigenous people, we are pushing for self-determination and economic independence,” said Hiebert, who has already spearheaded the Indigenous glove project in the Niagara and Ottawa health regions in Ontario.
In an email to Postmedia News, the PHSA said it has been in discussions with the MSS for about two years as part of its work to support economic reconciliation for First Nations, and said it believes the pricing for the gloves will be competitive. The PHSA said they’re committed to eradicating Indigenous-specific racism, and that they have an Indigenous procurement strategy “in development.”
While the ink isn’t dry on the contract yet, the PHSA announced in December its intent to directly award the contract to MMS. This contract is especially important to the company, said Hiebert, who took over MSS in 2014 with a goal to create a “national Aboriginal wholesale distribution network.”
“It’s a supply chain contract worth up to $40 million over five years. It’s a contract that will provide us with stability to grow, and allow us to be more competitive,” said Hiebert.
MSS was a major provider of personal protective equipment during COVID-19 and also supplied over five million COVID tests to the federal government. Hiebert estimates their gloves will save PHSA almost 35 per cent compared with foreign-owned suppliers whose obligation, Hiebert said, “is to their shareholders.”
“They have shareholders, we have community stakeholders,” said Hiebert. “Our mission is to deliver social benefits locally, and to accelerate reconciliation. We are putting the host bands at the table with the government and MSS, with a goal to enhance social determinants of health around the province.”
Hiebert, who grew up in Hay River, N.W.T., credits his mother, a nurse, for opening his eyes to both the cultural and practical needs of Indigenous patients in remote areas, and said he’s excited about offering Indigenous-led solutions. He’s got a plan in the works for mobile X-ray technology that could solve issues around access in remote areas.
“We are working directly with communities, hoping to bridge those relationships to create better, more affordable health outcomes for all British Columbians,” said Hiebert.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the contract had already been awarded. In fact, the province has announced an intent to award the contract.
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