Feature Story
Online Exclusive

Better health care for all

Bella Stein (’17) is helping to improve healthcare outcomes for BC First Nations communities
By: Laura Dillman Ripley

Bella Stein’s interests in the arts and sciences formally collided when she signed up for a Philosophy of Science course in her first year of university.

“I was taking biology classes, but needed to fulfill my credits in the arts. My dad had studied philosophy and recommended I take a course. I reluctantly signed up for a first-year Philosophy of Science course in hopes of showing him I wouldn’t enjoy it… and I ended up going on to complete a minor in philosophy” she says.

An honours biochemistry grad with minors in biology and philosophy, Stein is an Advisor with the First Nations Health Council (FNHC). The FNHC is the political and advocacy arm of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) which is a provincial organization set up to deliver health services to First Nations communities within British Columbia.

Stein and her colleagues work directly with First Nations leadership and communities, health care providers, as well as government officials to help advocate for better and more accessible health care for all First Nations people.

While a lot of Stein’s work is focused on engaging with over 200 communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many of these connections are now virtual. 

Stein says this change has brought both challenges and opportunities for her office.

“So much of First Nations culture is built around face-to-face interaction. The pandemic has really highlighted concerns around accessibility in many areas with the move to remote services,” she says.

In response to the pandemic, the FNHA launched a virtual doctor system, enabling remote communities to have better access to provincial healthcare resources, something Stein hopes will continue post-pandemic.

“It’s important to ensure resources are available equitably and that the voices and concerns of First Nations communities are heard and acted upon. So many First Nations communities are in rural and remote areas which have unique challenges in accessing health care services,” explains Stein. “It’s so essential to hear from all parties involved and understand that both Western and Indigenous practices can be used together.”

The FNHA is the first province-wide health authority of its kind in Canada and is an important leader in this space, Stein says, especially in the era of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“Historically, First Nations have not had much of a role in setting up the health care services for their own communities. New and strengthened partnerships between First Nations and service providers will hopefully assist in advocating for change in light of the TRC,” she says.

The FNHC works with First Nations community leaders and Health Directors across BC, as well as provincial and federal levels of government, to improve healthcare outcomes for First Nations communities in BC. This has included submitting testimony and response to the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and supporting engagement for new Indigenous health legislation aimed at improving access to health services.

In her role of supporting the FNHC, Stein has helped research and prepare documents along with co-ordinating events, conferences, and other initiatives across BC.

Originally from New York State, Stein moved to BC in 2009, returning there after her Mount Allison graduation.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do after Mount A. I travelled for a few months and then headed back to Vancouver because my family is here,” she says.

“I spent about six months waiting tables and networking with everyone I could who was involved in public health. This is a field I’ve always been interested in working in and was looking for opportunities to get my foot in the door. I started with the FNHC on a contract to do research on the social determinants of health before receiving an offer for my current position.”

Stein says her interdisciplinary degree from Mount Allison has helped her in day-to-day tasks in the office and out in the (virtual) field.

“I find this combination has been so helpful in my job so far,” she says. “The policy analysis part of the job gives me a chance to practise my research and data skills, while working with different partner organizations and communities allows for a bit more ‘outside-the-box’ thinking. I think about my studies in science and philosophy almost daily.”