Dana Jones at Urban Outreach. (Photographer: Aaron Hemens)

Dana Jones at Urban Outreach. (Photographer: Aaron Hemens)

‘We do it because we care’: Supporting those most in need is rewarding

Women in Business: Outreach Urban Health

In this 30th edition of Women in Business, women were interviewed who are employed in front-line positions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These women share their stories of overcoming negativity, working with the community and turning unpredictable situations into something positive— in the hope that their perseverance and success will become the guiding light for the next generation of women in business.

Women in Business shows who the movers and the shakers are in Kelowna and that there is always a space to share stories of successful women.

As soon as you walk through the doors of Outreach Urban Health (OUH) in downtown Kelowna, you know you’re amongst people who care.

The clinic houses nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, mental health and substance use clinicians, and family doctors. All of them support those who are homeless or dealing with mental illness, substance use, as well as people without access to traditional healthcare services.

Dana Jones is a member of this unique team. She graduated from the University of British Columbia’s Masters of Nurse Practitioners program in 2008, arriving at OUH in 2013. She has also worked on Vancouver’s downtown eastside, in hospital emergency rooms in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

“It probably stems from my childhood,” said Jones. “I actually wanted to be a marine biologist. Then I realized you don’t actually get to swim with the dolphins, you’re pretty much stuck in a lab all the time and I’m a much more sociable person than that. I liked biology. I liked people so nursing seemed like a good fit.”

Personal tragedy and a need to help others were also factors in her decision to focus on nursing.

“My favourite uncle died of HIV when I was 11 years old,” added Jones. “When I was in nursing school, we had two extended friends and family members die of HIV, secondary to drug use. When I was working in nursing school at St. Paul’s (hospital), which had a lot of marginalized IV drug-using population, and the poor quality of care that I saw these people receiving within the healthcare system really drove me, and I focused my whole undergrad basically on the marginalized population. I’ve always sort been driven for that social justice, social equity, health equity lens of providing care.”

Another member of the team, Catherine Birtwhistle, received her Masters of Nursing from the University of British Columbia in 2012, and then her Nurse Practitioners Masters while living in Toronto, graduating in 2016. She also felt a draw and a need to help others.

“I grew up in Yukon and worked with many First Nations people,” said Birtwhistle. “When I did my masters, I did research that focused on improving health outcomes for Aboriginal women, and so all of my positions I’ve primarily worked with marginalized populations where health care was difficult to access and it was just shocking that a lot of people weren’t getting any primary care, in particular in rural settings.”

Birtwhistle also spent time working in northern B.C., as well as Haida Gwaii. She joined OUH after her husband had a job transfer to Kelowna in August 2021.

“We’re connecting with people who struggle to get equitable care,” explained Birtwhistle. “I feel like our clinic, our team, our whole mindset here is to try and reach people who are struggling and work within their parameters. That means we’re going into shelters, going out on the street, and helping people who typically have a hard time going into a clinic or a hospital.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged OUH in providing care, services, and resources to their clients, Birtwhistle and Jones credit the entire team for going above and beyond.

“Our clinic was sort of a meeting place for the community and the waiting room was quite busy at times,” said Jones. “It drew people in, having the comfort of a safe place to be, and we could capitalize and grab those people and say ‘hey, you’re overdue for this, or hey, you need to come in for this.’ What was really amazing is the medical office assistants upfront, they knew everybody. They know where they live, where they’re staying, who their friends are, who to pass messages on to because they don’t have phones or emails. So it’s really cool to see how that whole team has to come together to make this clinic work.”

Talking with Birtwhistle and Jones you understand that they feel the struggles of their clients. They’ve seen how they are marginalized. They’ve seen some die. It can be difficult to process. Again, they credit the team they work with to get through difficult circumstances.

“Our staff here, we all care so much and genuinely you just have to push through,” she said. “Seeing people do well with the work that we’re doing with them is what helps us keep going. Seeing someone finally get treatment for their addiction, HIV or Hep C, that’s where we’re making a difference. You have to focus on that because you do get bogged down. COVID has been extremely hard. A lot of our patients choose not to be vaccinated. We understand the trauma people are going through, and it’s okay. We’re still going to care for you.”

“We’re in it together, we support one another,” added Jones.

Jones took the whole month of October off, saying she was burnt out and sick as was her husband.

“I was overloaded. I come into work and I’m busy on a Friday and I’m stressed and it’s like okay, what can we do? We’ll support that. Everybody pitches in and that’s what makes it manageable. It’s relationship building. That’s what gets people in. That’s what gets people connected. That’s what gets people staying engaged with care and making changes in their lives,” she said.

It’s the connections they make with clients that are the most rewarding part of what they do.

“It’s always been the relationships,” said Jones. “It’s why I stopped working emergency. I’d follow my patients up when they were ‘transferred to ICU to make sure the transfer was right and the patient was safe. But it wasn’t my job. I needed to pull back. So to do primary care and have that longevity and the longitudinal care, that really suits me.”

“We do it because we care,” added Birtwhistle. “This is the kind of work that you have to care about people. It’s not just a job. I would say our leaders are totally aligned with us. They listen when we say ‘this is the issue, we need more support for this.’ I think so many of the people in our population that we serve, feel so judged. There’s so much stigma, and when they come here that’s out the window. They truly feel accepted.”

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Catherine Birtwhistle Urban Outreach. (Photographer: Aaron Hemens)

Catherine Birtwhistle Urban Outreach. (Photographer: Aaron Hemens)