Indigenous-owned company delivering essential goods to help all Canadians

In the early days of March, as COVID-19 began spreading across Canada, Manitoba’s Spirit Healthcare Group of Companies coordinated with its existing contacts in China for the delivery of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) for the province’s First Nations.

Numerous PPE items, including hand sanitizer and blue medical gloves. A black baseball cap sits on top of a box that has a label reading “Family Safety Kit.” The writing on the baseball cap reads “Spirit.”

Spirit’s goal is to distribute 20,000 family safety kits.

SpiritRx Services, the group’s pharmacy and medical supply company, received the product less than three weeks later and began assembling family safety kits for Manitoba’s 63 First Nations communities.

Each family safety kit contains 20 pairs of nitrile gloves, 20 surgical grade masks, hand sanitizer, soap and a thermometer.

By mid-May, SpiritRx Services had distributed more than 3,000 kits, with a goal of eventually distributing 20,000.

The Spirit Healthcare Group is rooted in Indigenomics. “We embrace the balancing of our cultural values and beliefs with disciplined business strategies,” says Heather Berthelette, Chief Executive Officer of SpiritRx Services. “This is what Indigenomics means.”

Pre COVID-19, Spirit Healthcare Group was already importing medical products from China and selling under its Spirit brand.

Its first imported products were diabetes meters with half of the profits directed back into communities for healthy eating programs, health services and health education, all in an effort to change the trajectory of chronic diseases common in Indigenous communities.

“When COVID-19 hit, we immediately began to think of our communities, especially our remote northern communities,” says Berthelette.

“Self-isolating is a problem because of overcrowding,” she says. “In some places, there are multiple generations living together. This makes social distancing nearly impossible.”

The company then ramped up delivery of PPE to help meet both provincial and federal needs.

“As our supplies came in, we grew confident in the quality of the goods we secured, so we registered on the provincial and federal government websites (Buyandsell),” adds Berthelette.

A man wearing a face mask is packaging blue medical gloves.

Safety kits for remote communities are a priority.

SpiritRx Services provided 1 million isolation gowns for the province of Manitoba and, by mid-June, will have fulfilled a federal contract to provide hundreds of thousands of digital thermometers.

Grant Humphrey, the company’s Vice-President of Business Development, says he was impressed by the speed with which Public Services and Procurement Canada handled the contract.

“It was four days from the time they asked for pricing to receiving the federal order,” he says. “And the initial payment to help us fund the contract was sent on the sixth day. I was very impressed.”

As its supply of PPE began arriving, the Winnipeg office of the federal First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) got in touch. SpiritRx Services is now providing FNIHB with more than a million surgical masks and hundreds infrared thermometers, which read temperatures from foreheads, as well as thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer.

With heavy demand from around the world, and prices rising for everything, the Chinese manufacturers asked for significant pre-payment.

“The federal and provincial governments understood this from the get-go,” says Humphrey. “So, they released funds to help mitigate the amount of money we needed to borrow to secure delivery.

“We were also fortunate because our partner in China has been in the medical supply business for 30 years. He has long-standing relationships with hundreds of factories. That helped us immensely.”

When the world emerges from the pandemic, Berthelette says the company will look to sourcing more of its product at home.

“We are a 100% Indigenous-owned company, and we are honoured to be in the forefront of delivering essential goods to help all Canadians in this time of collective need,” she says.

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