A new health and dental benefits program is one way that Westbank First Nation is attempting to improve the standard of living among its members—especially those living in poverty.
According to WFN Chief Robert Louie, WFN entered into an agreement with health and dental service providers on April 1.
The deal, which will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,” will provide WFN members with up to $3,000 worth of health, vision and dental coverage.
The services will be provided in a similar way that employer health and dental services are provided to employees.
“Our understanding right now (is that) we’re the only First Nation in Canada to ever put together a program such as this,” said Louie.
“If you’re a WFN band member and can’t afford the basics of dental care or health care, you now have an opportunity to take advantage of this.”
Louie said that those who register will be eligible and WFN is currently in the process of getting the information out to its members.
According to the WFN chief, poverty levels among the band are similar to levels found in other Okanagan communities.
“Certainly poverty exists; we don’t deny that,” said Louie.
“We think that our poverty is probably consistent with the outside region. I think from a positive aspect. . .that’s probably better than most other First Nations.
“It’s still unacceptable, but I think it’s a much better situation here than any other First Nation I can think of in the region or in the country.”
Louie said that the revenue generated from business growth has benefited the entire band.
According to Louie, money gained from taxation on new development has been put towards safety improvements such as sidewalks and streetlights.
He added that $9 million has been put towards the 2012 to 2013 capital plan, which includes improvements such as: A youth centre, Sensisyusten school expansion, housing construction, parks benches and land purchased for a community core.
Louie went on to mention several community services that help those living in poverty.
WFN’s health and wellness building, located on Quail Lane, houses community services staff including nurses, counsellors, social workers, home support workers, an education coordinator, a youth worker and an employment and training coordinator.
Other community services include: A life skills program, addiction counselling, social assistance, immunizations, prenatal and postnatal services, funeral assistance, adult in-home care, a personal development program and elders services.
“When we target those in need, it really helps to bring the standard of living higher.”