The pilot project provides remote communities access to health services
Christine Beyleveldt // News Editor
Capilano University has partnered with Carrier Sekani Family Services, a holistic health and wellness service, to deliver training to health professionals in some of BC’s remote First Nations communities.
The year-long pilot project, launched in May and funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education, sees professionals receive hands-on training at the Carrier Sekani office in Vanderhoof, just over an hour west of Prince George.
According to CapU Rehabilitation Assistant Instructor Tracy Dignum, one of the biggest problems people living in remote communities face is access to adequate health services. For the most part, the northern half of the province doesn’t have the access to the services they need.
Dignum submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Advanced Education in late 2016 to launch the Rehabilitation Therapy Support Skills program pilot project. The ministry agreed to fully fund a year-long training program. She joined forces with Robin Roots, a University of Northern British Columbia coordinator of clinical education, because her physiotherapy students based at the school in Prince George already service the area and have connections in many of those small communities.
The training, which includes physiotherapy and occupational therapy, is similar to the curriculum of the Rehabilitation Assistant program offered at CapU, although it doesn’t include speech rehabilitation therapy. Initially, Dignum thought about offering online programming, but quickly realized that face-to-face interaction was more practical. It also made more sense for instructors to travel to Vanderhoof to deliver training, because students who come from remote communities to do their training in the Lower Mainland often don’t return.
Service delivery is where the training gets difficult. “I didn’t realize quite how underserviced some of these communities were,” Dignum said. Cell reception and internet access are taken for granted in the Lower Mainland, but up north it’s difficult to keep a steady correspondence.
There is teaching space, but no health training lab at the Carrier Sekani offices in Vanderhoof like the one Dignum has access to at the University. The community didn’t have all of the necessary equipment to use in training exercises either. Some of it had to be brought over from the UNBC campus in Prince George.
“I think the program is a wonderful opportunity to build capacity within our communities, and to provide educational and employment opportunities in a growing eld,” said Laura Giroux, an occupational health therapist working for Carrier Sekani. She explained that people from outlying communities in the central BC region are travelling to Vanderhoof to receive their training two days per month so far, although Carrier Sekani’s health teams frequently travel to those communities too. Dignum added that so far, they’re receiving positive feedback on the training model and participants are asking for more.
Dignum also noted that she’s learned a lot, not just about the culture of the region while she was teaching, but also about how to deliver training in a manner that was consistent with the resources available in Vanderhoof. She spent time teaching in Haiti in May, which she acknowledged helped prepare her for the cultural differences she encountered when she got to Vanderhoof. “What I found really interesting was when I went into Haiti I was able to say, ‘look, teach me about your culture because I’m really not all that familiar,’ and so I ended up kind of using the same format when I got up there [to Vanderhoof],” she explained.
For the first course during the summer, Dignum delivered training with Roots. “We’re already seeing what’s working and what we would want to change next time, but it’s a really nice trial run, so that we could then parachute this program down anywhere in the province,” she said. Her goal is to see CapU able to deliver training anywhere outside of the Lower Mainland.
Currently, instructors are mid-way through the second course and need to wrap up their training by May 2018. After it comes to an end, she hopes they can leave a legacy in the form of equipment and health promotion. She doesn’t know how training will continue after the pilot project is complete, but hopes there will be financial support that will allow it to continue to be offered.