We often think of healthcare as band-aids and prescriptions, surgeries and stays at the hospital. But achieving health requires more.
You need to be able to take time off work for that surgery, and a home where you can rest; a partner or friend or family member to grab you some groceries can be a necessity.
You may also need someone to talk to about the trauma that caused the need for that surgery – like a car crash, or a sexual assault.
And sometimes it’s the trauma itself that is standing in the way of you going to the clinic and getting the help you need.
That’s often the missing piece in healthcare that counsellor Esther is working to fill at AVI Nanaimo’s health centre.
Funded by United Way British Columbia, the health centre counselling program at AVI Nanaimo is earning trust, providing support, and giving people that missing link on their way to being healthy.
“When people come to AVI, we are not just looking at their medical need,” says Esther. “We try to look at the bigger picture of things that are affecting their life. So we try to look at how their medical condition is being affected possibly due to a housing crisis, possibly due to food insecurity. Do they have a support person to even get to a doctor’s appointment? Those are the kinds of things we look at.”
“It’s kind of [like], ‘Yeah, I can fix the cut on your foot all you want, but if I send you out of my office with no shoes, what’s the point?’”
But first, Esther had to work on gaining trust. AVI’s clients are often folks who have had bad and/or traumatic experiences with healthcare in the past and are often ostracized from society – members of the LGBTQ2S community, people who are homeless, people who use illicit drugs. So gaining that trust started with being visible, being friendly, and being around often enough. Slowly, people began to see how Esther would react to their reality.
“My feelings aren’t important when we sit together,” she says. “If you come see me, I don’t know you, I don’t know your family. I’m dutybound to confidentiality … so you don’t have to fear that you’re going to offend me in some way or you’re going to hurt me in some way.”
For instance, if someone relapses while trying to stop taking drugs, they don’t have to feel the same worry they might when deciding whether or not tell a parent or partner.
From there, AVI Nanaimo is now able to offer counselling 10 hours a week, and is fully booked up.
Esther has been able to support people as they work towards their sobriety, provide education and support for those questioning their gender and/or sexual identity, be there with the right help at the right time when someone is in crisis, provide that uplift of compassion and self-confidence that people need to keep going that day, and so much more.
It works because AVI Nanaimo’s health centre is engaged in providing their clients with the support they need to get to that appointment, or to have the right paperwork filled out, or to be emotionally ready to start or continue treatment, says Esther.
“It’s just all the little tiny things to get a person from A to B,” she says.
She added that she hopes more and more healthcare providers start working this way, and that Nanaimo as a community gains greater compassion and understanding for the marginalized members of the community.
“I really enjoy working with the LGBTQ community, because they are some of the most resilient folks I know, including the homeless population,” Esther says. “People don’t give credit where credit is due. They have been overcoming a lifetime of institutional discrimination, and they are still here and they are still trying their best to overcome all these barriers. Our hope is that we can support that.”