Larry Becker breaks down healthcare barriers for urban Indigenous people in midst of a pandemic

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      The scent of sweetgrass and sage, the way people drop by to chat, the homelike feel—it was this welcoming environment that drew Larry Becker to Lu’ma Medical Centre in East Vancouver.

      As the lead medical office assistant of the First Nations health centre for the past year, Becker, who grew up on the Musqueam Reserve and is Coast Salish, is part of a sizeable healthcare team that includes physicians, mental-health professionals and counsellors, social navigators, and traditional medicine elders and healers.

      “My goal is to be able to create a comfortable home environment where somebody feels comfortable to come in and be safe,” he says. “I think it definitely drops down one of many barriers that Aboriginal people face when it comes to health care.”

      However, over a short period after the pandemic arose, the centre underwent a “really drastic change,” Becker says.

      Consequently, he had to quickly develop a system of communication between staff working at home and at the clinic, which involved creating chatrooms, to ensure patients’ needs were being met by phone or video appointments.

      “I think it’s introducing people into a new area that maybe not everybody might have been comfortable exploring in the beginning,” he says about telehealth, adding that some people have discovered they feel more open over the phone.

      For visits to the clinic, Becker says, they introduced safety protocols, including screening visitors, preventing overlaps between high-risk patients, using extra sanitization, and ensuring supplies of personal protective equipment.

      However, Becker says that the cancellation of First Nations healing traditions and ceremonies, including sweat lodges and longhouse events, has been particularly hard for Indigenous people.

      Not all events can transition to virtual means—Becker says some believe that cameras should not be allowed at traditional events. Yet some events have adapted, such as drum circles that incorporate physical distancing.

      In terms of personal impact, Becker says he doesn’t realize how much the new circumstances affect him until he notices how much seeing a familiar face returning to the office boosts his happiness.

      While he used to thrive in a busy environment, he’s realizing how the pandemic has helped him slow down to rediscover the “simpler things” in life.

      “It’s making me appreciate things that I haven’t been focusing on for a long time,” he says of his culture, family, and values.

      Video: Watch a Georgia Staight thank you to frontline workers.
      LUCAS RENZO GIOVANNETTI

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      For those concerned about visiting a doctor's office because of the pandemic, a telehealth provider can put them in contact with physicians and other health-care professionals.

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