Monica Gerow, whose Indigenous ancestry is Ojibwe from Cote First Nation, Saskatchewan on her father's side and Metis on her mother’s side, has been an integral team member at BC Cancer – Kelowna for the past year supporting Indigenous patients and their families. In her role as an Indigenous Patient Navigator (IPN), she delivers supportive care that is trauma-informed and culturally safe to patients who identify as Indigenous living throughout the Interior Health area or who are travelling to Kelowna to receive care.
“Doing this work feels like healing our communities. It allows me to give back,” says Monica. “It brings comfort to many people’s families to know their loved ones have support. There have been many times that I have received texts or phone calls from families letting me know what a difference it made for them.”
Monica provides patient-centred care to people living throughout the Interior based on individual needs. Sometimes support can look like coffee and a conversation, sometimes it’s holding their hand as they walk to have their CT scan, knowing that patients may not have support with them and could be residential school survivors with complex medical trauma. If needed, she provides logistical support coordinating travel and transportation for patients coming from remote and rural communities. She records information from appointments in plain language to ensure patients fully understand their care plan.
“I can arrange connection to spiritual care through Elders in the community. We have been able to smudge and hold ceremony while people are in treatment, which has been really meaningful for our patients,” notes Monica. “I arranged a smudge with a patient and her family who had travelled to Kelowna for treatment. Once they returned home, they let me know that they hadn’t smudged in years and relayed how much of a release it was for them and that they were able to reconnect to their culture and continue smudging at home. That re-connection feels so important.”
Beyond patient care, Monica has been spending time building relationships with Indigenous counsellors, Elders and other health advocates in the community to build support networks for Indigenous patients who may require further assistance. Monica does presentations about BC Cancer’s IPN program for colleagues and local organizations and is attending health fairs and other events throughout the Interior.
Monica notes that these activities are only a small component to the healing journey for Indigenous communities and encourages health care colleagues to ask questions to help understand the complex needs of First Nations, Métis or Inuit patients. “This is important work and I encourage everyone to learn about the history of the land you are situated on and to hold space for Indigenous people. There are often many layers to the issues our communities face but conversations help to clear any misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge.”
The need for Indigenous Patient Navigators comes from the development of the Indigenous Cancer Strategy, feedback from patients, families and stakeholders who identified a broader need for Indigenous-specific patient navigators working in cancer care across the province. The position extends beyond BC Cancer and includes working in partnership with Métis Nation BC, BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, and First Nation Health Authority to develop regional strategies to improve Indigenous cancer care across B.C.
For more information on Indigenous Health services at PHSA, visit: http://www.phsa.ca/our-services/programs-services/indigenous-health#Programs--&--Services