A specialized ventilation system at the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital has been used around 200 times, allowing Indigenous patients and families to perform a traditional ceremony over the last year.
According to Alberta Health Services, during the smudging ceremonies, which involve burning sacred plants such as sage or sweetgrass accompanied by prayer, maintenance staff are able to switch on a specialized part of the hospital’s system which will have the air in the room ventilated outside rather than throughout the rest of the building. When the ceremony is done then the system will be returned to normal.
Senior Operating Officer for Grande Prairie Candice Edey says the suggestion to make smudging more accessible to patients was made during the commissioning phase of the new hospital by its Indigenous Engagement Committee.
“Our Facilities Maintenance and Engineering team then worked to create this new process to ensure smudging is available in a timely manner.”
According to AHS, these ceremonies can play an important role in an Indigenous patient’s healing journey, and the hospital is the first AHS site to be able to offer these ceremonies in this manner. According to the provincial health authority, these ceremonies create minimal smoke and are included in the exceptions in existing legislation and AHS policies when it comes to open flames and smoke.
Indigenous Health and Diversity in the AHS North Zone manager Shannon Dunfield says having the option to perform these ceremonies has improved the hospital experience for many Indigenous patients and is a “huge step” towards reconciliation.
“This helps our people feel welcome, comforted, and culturally safe when they come to the hospital.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on healthcare organizations across the country to incorporate traditional healing practices for Indigenous patients and families. According to AHS, they are working to provide a consistent way to accommodate ceremonies so patients across the province can expect the same standard of care.