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Indigenous Nurses Day celebrated by Street Connections patrol

It’s been five years since Jennie Russell started patrolling Winnipeg with the Street Connections Van – an initiative of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and it was one of the best decisions she’s made in life.

“People are coming to me to seek care,” Russell said.

“The relationship is the greatest thing to have in a community because that builds trust.”

Russell and a colleague operate the van every Monday to Saturday evening from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. She works with Winnipeg’s vulnerable populations handing out harm reduction supplies, and assisting those who experience barriers to accessing health-care.

“My role is to support people who need some health care assistance with sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections, so any kind of reportable infection to public health,” Russell said.

Harm reduction supplies like glass pipes, needles and Naloxone have become daily items she will distribute on her routes.

“I think right now our bubble pipes -they’re glass pipes that we hand out and we give to our partners as well – we seem to be running out of them quite frequently,” Russell said.

“That’s probably, the number one thing that people are coming to the van to seek us out for.”

She decided to become a nurse much later in life, and felt nursing was a great way to serve the community. The relationships she’s built on the job connect with Russell on a personal level and she’s reflective on her own lived experience.

“When I was younger, I don’t think I was there in the best way possible so it was really important for me to educate myself to be able to show up for people when they needed it,” Russell said.

For organizations in the community, the van remains an important resource. Siloam Mission teams up with Street Connections for weekly needle cleanup. Having partnerships in place creates a safer and more engaged community.

“So one of the things we do here at Siloam Mission and that Street Connections does so well, is create a triangle of trust between somebody that they already know and that they know cares about them like we do here,” said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, CEO of Siloam Mission.

“What’s really key is that we’re bringing services to people where they’re at, as opposed to you know, kind of waiting on them to engage with these systems that might be too traumatizing for them to access services in.”

Russell said as she marks Indigenous Nurses Day, it’s a good reminder that Indigenous representation leads to better supports for Indigenous patients.

“Public health has Indigenous designated positions, so I think that’s really important too,” Russell said.

“We’re on the right track, we’ve just got to keep building that workforce.”

National Nursing Week runs until Sunday, May 12.


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