To nurses, Indigenous Elders, physicians and other clinical care staff in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), inequality in the medical system was clear. To promote equality and provide culturally-informed quality healthcare, a team came together to create Kilala Lelum (Urban Indigenous Health and Healing Cooperative).

This health co-op “aims to address all aspects of health and wellbeing through [its] Elder-led services” and represents a united vision to promote health equity and wellness to members of DTES.

Kilala Lelum partners Indigenous Elders with physicians and allied health professionals to provide physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care to the community in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” The co-op enables community members to participate in the enterprise, something that’s critical for achieving the organization’s aim of ensuring all members feel valued and play a pivotal role in achieving the organization’s goals.

The co-operative offers a comprehensive range of services to best serve its members in the DTES, including its primary care clinic, cultural field trips, and more. The co-op has developed several programs to address specific issues within the community, which reflects its commitment to supporting residents of the DTES:

  • The cultural wellness program provides a safe space for participating individuals to learn more about Indigenous culture and identity from Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
  • Primary care services, which include lectures on HIV management, Opioid agonist therapy (OAT), and other chronic conditions such as COPD through the help of nurses and physicians. Further, the mobile outreach program extends primary care services to those in Vancouver whose needs aren’t being met by conventional models of care.
  • The case management program, specifically created for people most at risk of “‘falling through the cracks’ in the health system,” takes a holistic approach to assessing individuals’ healthcare needs by providing access to food deliveries and consistent member visitations.
  • The research program is helping to address gaps and disparities in the healthcare industry and establish goals to address the needs of Métis, Inuit, First Nations, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples.
  • A food and nutrition service to help address food instability among DTES members, where the co-op offers daily breakfast, snacks and a hot lunch.

Kilala Lelum also provides various education and training programs to help educate students enrolled in the health and social services sectors and highlight strengths and challenges Indigenous communities face. Through this experience, students gain useful skills and knowledge which could impact the way they navigate Western healthcare in the future.

Kilala Lelum is just one shining example of how the co-op model can be used to great success – to fill a community need and help to build stronger, more resilient and stable communities.

Thirsty for more examples? Check out our other case studies here.