SEOCHC Staff celebrating National Nursing Week, May 10-16, 2020
Written by Ann Gallant, HELP Ottawa Advisory Council member and Community Health Worker at South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre (SEOCHC)
When I first heard about the Healthy End of Life Project (HELP) Ottawa in October 2019, I felt strongly that with a focus on the development and reinvigoration of collaborative, diverse, and inclusive communities, HELP Ottawa’s partnership with local community health centres (CHCs) was a natural one, and I was quick to express an interest in getting involved. Though somewhat hesitant about my potential value-added, I hoped to be able to not only share my limited knowledge and experience, but to grow and learn from the insights and experiences of others. When our first Advisory Council meeting took place in January 2020, a diverse group of people gathered around the table, each bringing with them unique perspectives, based on their faith communities, cultural backgrounds, and personal experiences.
Through focus groups and one-on-one interviews, the HELP Ottawa team started delving into not only better understanding individuals’ experiences and often complex relationships with death, dying, illness, bereavement, and caregiving, but also our willingness and ability to ask for, accept, and offer help and support, during some of life’s most vulnerable moments. As a participant, I have found myself reflecting deeply on the dichotomy between the Individual and the Community and examining my own, sometimes uncomfortable, relationship with the topics being explored.
When COVID-19 hit, our ways of working and interacting with each other shifted, literally overnight. The ideas I had been reflecting on were pushed to the forefront, when new barriers and gaps in service emerged as a result of physical distancing and the need for our most vulnerable to remain in their homes. With this further isolation, the value of remaining socially connected while physically apart became truly apparent. SEO staff and management quickly rallied together to explore how we might be able to continue to support both each other, as well as the communities we serve, while navigating the uncharted waters of our new and ever-evolving reality.
In real time, we worked to surmount the not insignificant learning curve of becoming more comfortable with virtual platforms and the unique challenges and hurdles that they bring. Creative minds tweaked (and then tweaked again) existing programs and developed new ones, in order to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of our community. Through intentional collaboration, internally and with community partners, as well as a fair share of trial and error, we are slowly physically re-entering our communities.
Though there is no way of knowing what our “new normal” will look like, or even what our timeline is, what has emerged is that our society’s focus on the individual as an island is no longer sustainable. HELP Ottawa and our CHC’s vision of inclusive, supportive and strength-based communities is relevant now, more than ever, and the adage has never been more true that we really are all in this together.
Ann graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and immediately started working with seniors in the private sector. Six years later, she moved to Central America for 6 months to volunteer with women and children in rural Guatemala. Once back home, Ann connected with the not-for-profit sector and discovered her passion for working in the community. After 6 years as a Community Health Worker at South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre, Ann will be returning to school this September to pursue a degree in Social Work.