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St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver is seen in April, 2015. St. Paul’s Foundation raises funds to support Providence Health Care’s 17 B.C. sites, including St. Paul’s Hospital.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

A $2-million donation to St. Paul’s Foundation from Bank of Montreal will support the health and wellness of Indigenous communities in British Columbia, with a focus on cardiac health.

Of the $2-million, $1.6-million will go to the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital, with the other $400,000 earmarked for a new hospital that will replace the downtown Vancouver facility.

Heart-disease rates for Indigenous people in Canada are as much as 50 per cent higher than in the general population, and the death rate from stroke is twice as high, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The chair was created in 2015 to lead research and education related to the cardiac health of Indigenous people, according to the FNHA. That research is then used to shape policies and programming and develop health-promotion strategies that factor in culture and social determinants of health.

Jeff Reading, director of the Indigenous Health Education Access Research and Training Centre in Vancouver and former scientific director of the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was named inaugural chair in 2016.

Since then, he has facilitated research on rare genetic disorders among Indigenous children; metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that contribute to heart disease; and the fetal origins hypothesis, the theory that adverse nutrition in utero is linked to heart disease in middle age.

He describes himself as a “catalyst” who seeks out the best and brightest researchers for the tasks at hand, reaching across medicine, health authorities and academia.

“It’s impossible for one person be an expert at everything, so what we do is align and collaborate, and help to get knowledgeable, experienced people to turn their attention to what’s going on in the native community,” said Dr. Reading, a Mohawk from Ontario’s Tyendinaga First Nation.

“It’s amazing how they become so passionate about it once they get involved and see for themselves some of the circumstances, and know that the impact that they can have is going to be huge.”

“If you seed these relationships all over a big institution like Providence Health Care," he added, referring to the health-care provider under which St. Paul’s Hospital operates, "you end up creating a wave of change. And that’s reconciliation.”

Paul Seipp, BMO’s regional president for business banking in British Columbia and Yukon, announced the gift on Tuesday in Vancouver.

“It is our hope – in fact, our belief – that our contributions can help move forward the exceptional work that is being done here,” Mr. Seipp said.

St. Paul’s Foundation raises funds to support Providence Health Care’s 17 B.C. sites, including St. Paul’s Hospital.

Other donors to the new hospital include London Drugs and the Tong and Geraldine Louie Family Foundation ($6.5-million), Michael and Carmelina De Lazzari ($3-million), Bank of Nova Scotia ($2-million) and the Rotary Club of Vancouver ($6-million).

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