Christiane Gray-Schleihauf (left), Tamara Barnett, Karen Lundgren and Anne Drost are all nurses at Cool Aid’s Community Health Centre (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Downtown Victoria nursing model making a difference

Staff at the Cool Aid Community Health Centre are presenting their work internationally

Nurse Week may be wrapping up, but that doesn’t change anything for seven busy nurses who work in Victoria’s downtown primary care clinic.

Cool Aid’s Community Health Centre at 713 Johnson St. sees 33,000 appointments per year; a third of those appointments are overseen by the clinic’s team of registered nurses with certified practices.

“It’s a very unique role, there aren’t many nurses who work in a primary health role in an interdisciplinary setting” said Anne Drost, the clinical nurse leader. “This allows us to work at a slightly higher scope, and I think the structure and the setting makes it unique, as well as our population.”

ALSO READ: More than 300 vacancies in Vancouver Island nursing

The majority of the downtown clinic’s 4,700 patients are vulnerable populations living in poverty, many living with addictions and mental health needs. That means that a large part of the job is building relationships with clients to gain trust.

“If they want to talk to us about abscesses they have, or that they need a crack pipe, they can tell us that,” Drost said, adding that they work with a harm reduction lens. “It means we have to meet them where they’re at and work from there.”

ALSO READ: B.C. nurses, emergency dispatchers get help for work-related trauma

The setting also allows the nurses to take part in unique projects that are gaining international attention; in September, members of the team presented in Portugal on their Hepatitis C micro-elimination project. This week one of the nurses is in Saskatoon to present a paper written by team members on the nurse-led HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Program, a preventative program focused largely on men who have sex with men.

“We have really interesting nurse-led programs in the community that provide us with a lot of job satisfaction,” said Karen Lundgren. “Our PReP program is the second largest in the province.”

The team also does a lot of outreach with local groups and communities including AIDS Vancouver Island, the Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users (SOLID), Peers, the Anawim House and the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.

ALSO READ: New contract would force B.C. health authorities to hire new nurses or pay millions

On top of that, the nurses run regular diagnostics, change bandages, do pap smears and fill many other roles a doctor would.

“A lot of the stuff we do you don’t need to see a physician for, and I really hope that’s where the nurse’s role in primary health care can go,” Drost said. “It would save the system a lot of money.”

The varied clientele and work always keeps the team on their toes, something that the newest team member, Christiane Gray-Schleihauf finds most rewarding.

“We’re very excited to be here and love the differences that walk through the door, we never know what to expect,” said Gray-Schleihauf. “It really shows what nurses are capable of, and rather than putting a ceiling on it we’re constantly evolving the practice.”

With such a varied, and often turbulent client base, the team also prioritizes sharing tasks and enforcing self care.

“We share heavy clientele interactions with each other, so I think we’re able to let it go when we go home because we’d have talked a lot of it through,” said Tamara Barnett.

The Cool Aid Community Health Clinic is open Monday-Saturday, with varied hours between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

For more information, you can visit coolaid.org

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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