2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Mid-Wife. In celebration and recognition, we will feature stories all year long of community health nurses from across the province and the great work they do for BC First Nations people and communities.
“Everyone wants to know that someone has their back," Shelley Soloway says, speaking about her role as the Community Health Nurse with the Akisqnuk First Nation located near Windermere. Every word Shelley shares about her work is infused with passion, and demonstrates the dedication, devotion and love for what she does and the community she works in. “We are here for our community members – that is who we serve", and the question, “what do YOU need for your wellness?" is what drives Shelley's model for patient-centred care.
Shelley knew as a high school student living in Kamloops that she wanted to be a nurse, and became a care-aid first, before getting married and having children. While raising their own family, Shelley and her husband chose to become foster parents, something they continued for 14 years, and as Shelley describes, they got to expand their family to include each child that they were able to care for. It wasn't until an opportunity in 2006 that enabled Shelley to train to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), which started her path in nursing. Shelley gathered experience in many areas, gaining training in acute and extended care, the emergency room, and further honed her skills in the areas of psychiatric nursing and dementia care, which she especially loved.
Shelley was working in Invermere when an opening became available for the Community Health Nurse (CHN) with the Akisqnuk First Nation. Taking on this role, she began serving the approximately 300 Akisqnuk members living at home and away from home, in what she calls an incredibly unique situation. The model created for the Akisqnuk First Nation is all encompassing – whether you live at home or away from home, whether a band member or not, and including non-status children that are part of families – everyone has access to care and service. This includes patient navigation, advocacy, ensuring prescriptions are covered and more. Shelley ensured that everything moved smoothly and she quickly became the “go-to" nurse.
This was just part of Shelley's practice as she focused on patient-centred care. She made a point of having conversations with each individual to find out what they needed, what they wanted, and what was going to work for them, which meant taking the time to learn about each of their personal situations. In fact, Shelley invited people to contact her anytime, and included her personal cell number on her business card, making herself totally accessible. For the first two years, Shelley received calls around the clock, and said that being available in this way was part of her job to earn trust. “When you can reassure people, things are so much better….Everyone needs a mom. If you are having a crisis at 2am, you want to know that there is someone there."
Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelley has been available. “We posted lots of COVID-19 information on the website, and asked people to call if they were sick or unwell. The health centre remained open, so I could still help people with anything they needed, and we have done it in a safe way. In-home visits stopped, but my team and I made sure we had visuals with each family amidst the pandemic during the time when everyone was advised to stay home. We made sure each family or person had meal delivery each week, and people were always able to text or call me."
The building and strengthening of relationships beyond the community has also served to establish an important, reliable framework of care. Invermere Hospital is ten minutes away, and Shelley and her colleagues have excellent working relationships with the doctors, pharmacists, and care providers all around. “We navigate and liaise with whoever we need to. Whatever comes up, we pull it in. My program manager is supportive and makes sure community members get the care they require and their needs are met."
Asked about the different kinds of nursing she has done, Shelley is quick to answer, “…the most rewarding nursing experience possible, is when you work as a Community Health Nurse in a First Nations community. You are able to work with community members to make a change in their wellness when there is a relationship and trust. You get to treat the whole patient, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically – you only get to do that in a First Nations community."
We raise our hands to Shelley for her passion and approach to individualized care in community, as we continue to celebrate and honour all nurses who do this important work.