Toronto’s first stationary Indigenous-led COVID-19 testing centre opens

By news staff

Toronto’s first stationary, Indigenous-led COVID-19 assessment and testing centre is now open.

While there is an Indigenous mobile testing site already in operation, this is the first fixed site.

Named Auduze Mino Nesewinong, which in the Anishinaabe language means, “Place of Healthy Breathing,” the centre is located in the previously-vacant Native Men’s Residence (Na-Me-Res) building in midtown Toronto.

Steve Teekens, the executive director of Na-Me-Res says Indigenous people can be disproportionately impacted by infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and adds they are more likely to experience barriers in accessing services, including systemic racism in healthcare. The testing site is one of the ways to respond to those concerns.

“We feel that Indigenous health care providers is the best way to provide services to Indigenous people,” said Teekens.  “One of the really good features that we’re doing with the COVID testing center is we’ve hired Indigenous COVID outreach workers. When it comes to doing contact tracing, we’re in the best position to do so.”

Teekens also says that while there is speculation that COVID-19 has affected Indigenous populations disproportionately, he hasn’t seen data to support this.

However, the testing site was launched in tandem with the We Count COVID-19 Indigenous database research project — an Indigenous community-owned database about First Nations, Inuit and Métis COVID-19 spread.

The project aims “to bridge the data gap about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous communities and to ensure Indigenous peoples are leading the governance, management, analysis and dissemination of information about them.”

“It is inspiring to work together in a good way to create something that will benefit the broader Indigenous community,” said Dr. Janet Smylie, director of Well Living House, the Indigenous health research unit at St. Michael’s Hospital and principal investigator of We Count COVID-19.

“Evidence supports the effectiveness of ‘by community for community’ Indigenous health solutions.”

Back in July, Toronto Public Health released data about how COVID-19 is affecting minorities, showing shocking disparities in racialized groups.

Data collected from people infected with COVID-19 and who voluntarily answered socio-demographic questions found 83 per cent identified with a racialized group. Seventy-one per cent of those who were hospitalized with the virus identified with a racialized group.

“There’s a lot of inequities within health,” said Teekens. “If you look at the social determinants of health, the statistics when it comes to Indigenous people — we’re often near the very bottom of those statistics.” The site, he says, hopes to mitigate some of those factors.

“[For] people who come here to seek a test, when they go inside what they’re going to see is a community-based clinic,” said Teekens.

“They’re going to see that it’s not so institutionalized, they’ll see Indigenous imagery and Indigenous staff. It’s meant to be a warm and inviting place for people to come get tested and will be a resource for families, for their children to get tested.”

The centre is a collaboration between Na-Me-Res, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, Well Living House at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health at Women’s College Hospital.

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