Dr. Alika Lafontaine is a Grande Prairie anesthesiologist who has advocated for improved Indigenous health care.
Photo courtesy of CMA
A Grande Prairie anesthesiologist has been recognized for helping create spaces where positive change can occur for Indigenous health care.The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) awarded Dr. Alika Lafontaine with its 2019 Sir Charles Tupper Award for Political Action for demonstrating leadership and dedication in advancing CMA goals and policies through his grassroots advocacy.Lafontaine is Ojibwe-Cree with Métis ancestry and is also Polynesian. He noted his participation in the culture, language and tradition of Indigenous peoples during his youth.“The advocacy has kind of just been a natural evolution of growing up the way that I did and having the opportunities than I did,” Lafontaine said. “Any Indigenous person who gets involved in the health field has the opportunity to have some sort of impact, partially because there are not a lot of us out there, partially because the need is so deep.”Initially on track to be a surgeon, Lafontaine met his wife in medical school who convinced him to change career paths. He then decided to become an anesthesiologist after shadowing a friend.“I had the experience where we walked into a patient room after a code has been called,” Lafontaine said. “My friend walked and he was a senior trainee at the time and within a few minutes, the scene of chaos had calmed down. I decided then that was the kind of doctor I wanted to be.”Having lived in Grande Prairie for nine years, Lafontaine said he had initially come to Grande Prairie with a short-term plan but became attached to living and practicing in the area.In 2013, Lafontaine helped Saskatchewan First Nations determine why its residents were sicker compared to non-Indigenous patients.“There were a lot of structural differences and expectation differences between First Nations patients who were seen in the area versus non-Indigenous patients,” Lafontaine said, adding that these expectation differences ranged from treatment locations to the level of service received.He then drafted and co-led a national strategy with the Indigenous Health Alliance, which consists of territorial organizations representing 150 First Nations and several national health organizations. This proposal was then submitted to the federal government.With the help of Lafontaine’s advocacy, the federal government committed $68 million last fall for advancing the transformation of Indigenous health care. He stated that this money would go towards community engagement, bring together teams of experts and fund individuals to do the work on the ground.“We came along at the right time and framed the ask in the right way, these same sorts of things that made huge improvements in the health for Albertans,” he added. “The expectation is they’ll have the same sort of impact for Indigenous communities.”Lafontaine has since stepped back from the Indigenous Health Alliance to allow First Nations to lead the implementation. He is now working on IntelliHealth, a virtual platform that utilizes blockchain technology so patients can report adverse events anonymously.“Health is interesting in the way we don’t have a mechanism for people to report anonymously and if people do report anonymously, the system is set up that those complaints are never really addressed in any sort of meaningful way,” he said. “The technology has finally caught up to the point where you can do that now.”Lafontaine emphasized his love of practicing in Grande Prairie and the achievements of others who live in the community.“We have so many people who should be celebrated here and I hope that we do because we have a lot of amazing people who live in this area,” he said.