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First Nations health-care teams work with NSHA for local COVID-19 assessment

Elaine Allison is one of two First Nations health directors in Nova Scotia who is also a registered nurse. She’s been with Wagmatcook First Nation for 21 years.
Elaine Allison is one of two First Nations health directors in Nova Scotia who is also a registered nurse. She’s been with Wagmatcook First Nation for 21 years. Nova Scotia Health Authority

The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) announced Friday it has opened a collaboration with two health directors after First Nations chiefs called for engaging their own health-care professionals in COVID-19 response.

Deploying staff who are community members to do the testing could alleviate any fears or concerns of other community members, according to an NSHA press release.

“My sense is that people just really wanted to ensure members of First Nations communities had access to testing as close to home as they desired,” said Cindy MacQuarrie, NSHA’s senior director of interprofessional practice and learning, in the release.

Read more: Dalhousie and NSHA researchers get $1 million to study COVID-19

The NSHA’s focus is ensuring First Nations communities have health professionals with strong relationships within their communities and having competencies to be able to provide appropriate care.

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MacQuarrie said in the release it will ensure “they have the connections with our public health system, our lab team, 811 team, our education, and our resources within NSHA.”

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The health organization will now provide First Nations health-care teams with education, training and access to test kits.

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Elaine Allison, health director of Wagmatcook First Nation, said getting this initiative off the ground moved very quickly.

“I was thinking we’d be lucky to get this done by September. But we talked about it, made the guiding principles and pathways, and we had everything operational in a matter of weeks. It was just amazing how quick it was,” Allison said in the release.

Allison is a registered nurse who has been living in Wagmatcook for 21 years. While she has never dealt with anything like COVID-19, she says her team is ready to tackle the second wave.

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Read more: Nova Scotia reports no new coronavirus cases, 3 active cases remain

Jennifer MacDonald, the director of health and wellness for Waycobah First Nation, said in the release that elders in the community realized their residents were at a disproportionate risk of an outbreak early on.

“People live together, people work together, and there are multi-generational homes, so it was important for us to try and put in place what we could, to keep people at home … because there is so much interaction on all levels,” she said in the release.

The Waycobah health-care team has decided to provide only in-home testing, to keep people out of primary assessment centres and hospitals.

Waycobah and Wagmatcook are just two of 11 First Nations communities that have expressed interested in collaborating with the health authority, according to the release.

It says eight communities participated in training, and three now have coronavirus assessment programs on-reserve.