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New Indigenous primary care centre opens in Victoria

The Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) primary care centre opened on Thursday, May 9 in Victoria and for those involved in the long battle to bring equity to Indigenous healthcare, it is a victory.

“It is a dream come true,” said Bruce Parisin, Executive director at VNFC.

The new primary care centre has a patient list of over 2,000 and will soon be able to see over 4,500 people, said Grey Shower, director of wellness and health.

“There’s a huge need,” Shower said.

Approximately 20,000 urban Indigenous people live in South Island. The primary care centre is the region’s largest healthcare provider for Indigenous communities.

The facility has hired 13 full-time staff, and the number will grow to over 20 with two family doctors, five nurse practitioners, eight Indigenous wellness providers, two registered nurses, and three medical office assistants.

“We just want to be a warm, safe place for people to come,” said Shower. “We serve people of all ages, and we want babies and children, as well as elderly folks, right across their lifespan.”

Because of the VNFC primary care centre at 2951 Tillicum Road, Melven (Sx̄wen) Jones walked down the stairs for the first time in almost a year.

“I’m happy with my lungs. I can breathe and be grateful for spaces like this,” Jones said.

Previously, he used a 15-litre oxygen tank and received over 300 stitches after he went to Vancouver General Hospital for surgery on his lungs in October 2023.

“I was like a little child, with all that doctor poking and prodding,” Jones said.

Bradley Dick, who opened said the ceremony with a traditional drum and dance, said that the care centre marked a significant step for many. He recalled the story of Camosun and the Transformer, a preeminent spirit.

“To walk that journey together and to acknowledge that those connections to those old teachings still thrive,” said Dick.

The Ministry of Health has approved approximately $2 million in annual funding through the Victoria Primary Care Network for VNFC Health Centre. It also provided $2.9 million in one-time amounts for tenant improvements and lease deposits.

Monique Gray Smith, a VNFC board member, said that the new clinic is part of the answer to Indigenous peoples’ access to health care, and it does so in a culturally safe way.

“Those elements are equally as important as the medical ways of care. But that beautiful teaching that love is medicine,” Smith said.

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