For most patients, a visit to the hospital will evoke a range of emotions— many of which are unwelcome. To some, the health care system can even feel like an intimidating, complex maze.
Far from their communities and culture, some of our Aboriginal patients may feel particularly isolated during a hospital stay in St. John’s. Surrounded by the unfamiliar, any gesture or support that makes them feel more at home can help make the experience a little more comfortable.
Enter Eastern Health’s Aboriginal Patient Navigator (APN) program. Since its introduction in 2009, it has been breaking down cultural and geographical barriers, and supporting Aboriginal patients, as they make their way through the acute care system.
In an effort to provide culturally-sensitive health care, the APN program offers support to Aboriginal patients who are referred to St. John’s for medical treatment— providing a valuable link between their own communities and Eastern Health care providers.
The journey through our health care facilities has many stages: from tests to diagnosis — to treatment to the return home — and ultimately, hopefully, the road back to health. The road to recovery also stretches from the busy corridors of a city hospital to the wide open spaces in places like Conne River or Natuashish.
The inuksuk, a stone figure in the shape of a human being, is one of the most powerful symbols of the Inuit culture. It is used as a navigational tool- to show direction- and is a welcome sight to travelers making their way through a forbidding or unfamiliar landscape.
The traditional meaning of the word inuksuk is “you are on the right path” or “someone was here.”
Katie Dicker, Eastern Health’s senior patient navigator, works towards guiding Aboriginal patients down the right path within the health care system. As a member of the Nunatsiavut Government, and one of the first individuals involved in the implementation of the APN program, Katie understands the different needs of Aboriginal patients.
“Before coming here, I was exposed to the challenges in Aboriginal health care, in my own personal and professional experiences,” Katie says. “So I understand how some patients feel completely lost when they get here. That’s where we come in— to work as liaisons, and be there for them from beginning to end.
“Every day is different— different patients, different needs.”
Aboriginal patient navigators do a number of things to help their patients feel more at ease in the hospital setting:
- they provide referral, advocacy and support to Aboriginal patients to help them access the most appropriate health care and community services;
- they arrange services for clients’ if they require interpretation in their own language— Innu-Aimun and Inuktitut— to make sure they understand the care they are given;
- they escort patients to medical appointments; and-
- they make recommendations for, and assist with, accommodations, discharge planning, and access to medical supplies.
Solomon Semigak is another Eastern Health Aboriginal patient navigator, from Makkovik, NL. Through his experience working with the APN program, Solomon has developed an appreciation for the challenges Aboriginal patients face when far from their homes and families.
“We emphasize the importance of Aboriginal traditions and values,” says Solomon. “It is because of this that our patients are forever grateful for what we do— that is a great feeling.
“Helping Aboriginal patients with their needs is a very rewarding job.”
Eastern Health’s Aboriginal navigation service is drawing attention across the country for its integrated approach to care. On October 10, 2012, the Health Council of Canada invited representatives of the APN program to speak at a national symposium, in Toronto, Ontario, to share and promote the efforts behind their innovative practice.
While national recognition is a positive thing, Katie and Solomon measure their success by the impact their program is having on those who depend on them.
Helping upward of 50 to 80 patients a month, Katie and Solomon share many fond memories with their patients, though it is the words of one patient that are particularly memorable:
“Nakummek ilitsinut suliakagatse tamane. Ikajugatse Inukatinet. Pitsiagusuagitse.” (Inuktitut)
In English, this means, “Thank you both for working here, because you are helping your people. Keep doing the best you can.”
Do you or someone you know require assistance from an Aboriginal Patient Navigator? For more information, contact Katie Dicker, Eastern Health’s senior patient navigator, at (709) 777-2199 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. ■
This story was written by Samantha Flynn, a co-operative education student with Eastern Health.