Indigenous Chiropractic Caucus established to better serve Indigenous patients

Being able to help people with musculoskeletal issues will help save Canada’s economy billions of dollars says the head of a new organization called the Indigenous Chiropractic Caucus.

“Musculoskeletal conditions account for $2.4 billion annually and that’s a high cost for physicians services, hospital services, and pharmaceuticals,” says Dr. Jennifer Ward, chair of the caucus that was announced on Nov. 27 in Ottawa. “We have two independent studies that have been done in Ontario and it’s found that chiropractic management of low back pain is more cost effective than medical management by at least 52 per cent and as high as 61 per cent.”

The caucus is established under the Canadian Chiropractic Association.

Ward says the caucus will work to increase access to musculoskeletal (MSK) care for Indigenous peoples across Canada.

“There is a lot of inequities in health for Indigenous peoples and I think that a lot of that is rooted in systemic issues that we have in Canada – both political, economic, and social,” says Ward. “With the Indigenous Chiropractic Caucus, we’re hoping that we can lobby and advocate and support for Indigenous people to receive an option that’s non-pharmacological, non-invasive … for their musculoskeletal pain.”

She says the group has been a dream child of hers and fellow co-chair Dr. David Peeace for years.

“We’ve been looking to find a way where our chiropractic profession can come into Indigenous communities and help support Indigenous chiropractors,” says Ward.

According to the chiropractic association, “The Indigenous Chiropractic Caucus will support the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action within the chiropractic profession. We acknowledge that the current state of health is a direct result of previous policies, and we commit ourselves to work in the spirit of reconciliation by mentoring Indigenous chiropractic students and providing a forum for professional development to support Indigenous chiropractors.”

The World Health Organizations say musculoskeletal conditions are “the leading contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain being the single leading cause of disability in 160 countries.”

Ward says there are two major barriers for Indigenous people needing chiropractic care – lack of services in rural remote communities and the high cost.

The group plans to advocate the federal government to reinstate coverage for chiropractic services under their Non-insured Health Benefits plan, or NIHB, for First Nations and Inuit. Ward says will be a cost-cutting measure for the federal government.

“We have 9,000 chiropractors across Canada who are willing and able to step up to the plate … and provide help and provide relief. If the federal government can open up doors and remove some of these barriers to access, then we’re here to help,” says Ward.

She says there is a new World Spine Care clinic in Pimicikamak Okimawin in northern Manitoba that is funded by Health Canada and where Indigenous patients do “not have to pay for treatment”.

The caucus will also mentor Indigenous chiropractic students in hopes that they will return to their home communities to provide the much-needed service.

“When I went into chiropractic, it was because I was able to look at the philosophy, the art, the science of chiropractic and how it was very holistic and it really resonated well with my Indigenous teachings growing up,” says Ward, who is Mi’kmaq from Natoaganeg First Nation in New Brunswick. “We didn’t have a chiropractor on my reserve so I didn’t really know what it was, but my mother and my grandmother always did a lot of home treatments.

“Once I learned about chiropractic, it really resonated well with the treating the body as a whole so that you include mind, body, spirit, and emotion.”

Ward now has her own chiropractic clinic in Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba which has been taking patients for the last 20 years.

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