An acrimonious situation seems to be getting worse as three First Nations chiefs have taken the government to court, over the decision by B.C.’s First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) to change the healthcare provider serving 29 Nations on Vancouver Island.
In 2013, the FNHA appointed the Inter Tribal Health Authority (ITHA) to deliver health funding and services, but the relationship has soured in recent years.
After multiple disagreements and even a reported accusation of assault, the two organizations have ended up in court.
On Jan. 21, the FNHA appointed Ganhada Management Group to oversee health service delivery to their Indigenous member communities, after stating they had a “responsibility” to terminate their agreement with the ITHA. This came at the conclusion of a three year consultation process and independent audit. The FNHA cited a plethora of failings including no-shows by ITHA-appointed contractors, inadequate electronic medical records and the poor delivery of mental health services. They also said that the ITHA had provided inconsistent levels of care and had refused to provide financial and administrative information, as required in funding agreements.
The ITHA dispute their findings.
In a lengthy statement, the FNHA said “ITHA has failed to meet the most basic standards of transparency, accountability and service delivery compounding this by making untrue and irresponsible claims to our clients. Allegations that clients will face harm from the termination of service agreements are completely false and terribly damaging to people who are then convinced they will lose vital medical support. This self-serving attempt to generate panic and confusion is another example of the lack of professionalism we have seen through this process.”
According to the FNHA, one-third of member communities had complained about the ITHA, but some clients have met the decision with dismay.
Three days after the decision to switch administrators was announced, the ITHA filed a lawsuit, in conjunction with the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, Tseycum and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations against Canada and the FNHA.
The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw are located in Port Hardy, the Tseycum in North Saanich and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis come from Gilford Island.
Coun. Rick Johnson of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation said “the services have been good and we have a good relationship with the ITHA. If it isn’t broken then leave it alone.”
The parties pursuing the case argue that as the nominated agent for Canada, the government would breach its fiduciary responsibility to the First Nations if funding to the ITHA was rescinded.
Johnson said remote communities, such as the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis, have different needs to those in urban areas. He said that his community was worried about the new provider and had “confidence” in the ITHA.
When the FNHA terminated their agreement with the ITHA, they suspended payment of February’s healthcare funds as they intended them to be disseminated by their new third-party provider. This was partly due to the ITHA refusing to engage with the transition process and locking their offices.
The ITHA filed an injunction against the decision not to send them the funds and a judge ordered the FNHA to pay February’s money, in the meantime, before both parties go to court for their grievances to be heard. February’s funds are $412,170.
There has been no judgement of wrongdoing against the FNHA.
A media spokesman for the FNHA said that the hearing, between Feb. 19 and 21, is not to challenge the FNHA’s decision to replace providers but to see if they were correct to suspend February’s payment to the ITHA.