Challenging the status quo to improve heart health in First Nations Communities
By Halimah Beaulieu
Jeff Reading is not one to rest on his laurels. Appointed two years ago as the inaugural First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, the Indigenous health expert has led several major research and education initiatives to improve the well-being of First Nations communities.
Just a year into his appointment, Reading established the first Indigenous Health Education Access Research and Training (I-HEART) Centre at Providence Health Research Institute with a $500,000 commitment from the Heart & Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon. The Centre has since been challenging the status quo for providing health services to Indigenous peoples.
The I-HEART Centre disseminates and applies Indigenous health knowledge to inform new policies and programs for alleviating chronic cardiovascular health conditions among First Nations people. This involves incorporating new and ancient Indigenous ways of knowing related to prevention and wellness, promoting healthy diets and regular exercise, respecting tobacco, and managing other health conditions such as diabetes and obesity, lung and kidney disease, and mental health and substance misuse.
“Improving access to health care means cultivating culturally safe cardiovascular services and programs while tackling the geographic challenge of providing rural and remote access to some of the most vulnerable communities in B.C.,” says Reading.
Reading, who is a Mohawk from the Tyendinaga First Nation in Ontario, has worked on advancing knowledge in Indigenous health issues for more than two decades. Yet he notes that while the rates of heart disease are decreasing in the general Canadian population, they are on the upswing in Aboriginal communities where more than one-third of the population have a chronic health condition.
The I-HEART Centre also supports future generations of health professionals through training and mentoring, and creates student- and community-informed research networks and collaborations across health professions and health sciences disciplines in Canada and internationally.
Reading is currently involved in funded research projects totaling more than $20 million. These include identifying First Nations health priorities through survey evaluation methods grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing, and strengthening commercial tobacco control measures for First Nations communities.