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Christine Abraham of Sheshatshiu knows what it’s like to have a medical emergency uproot her from her community and away from the support of family and friends.
It happened to her seven years ago, when her daughter, MaKayla Rich, was born prematurely and spent about a month in the Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s.
Looking back at that time, Abraham says she was fortunate to have Katie Dicker, Eastern Health’s senior aboriginal patient navigator, to turn to for advice and information.
“Katie helped me with getting a breast pump, accessing a car seat for the baby’s car seat test for discharge and with getting meals set up for me,” Abraham said.
Over the past seven years, Abraham has had frequent extended stays in St. John’s while MaKayla is treated for a medical condition.
“Last year, I had to live here for a year for her to get treatment,” she said.
Abraham’s situation has changed a great deal since then.
In January, she came full circle when she started a newly-created position with Eastern Health in St. John’s.
Like the woman who helped her navigate the complexities of the health care system, Abraham is also working as an aboriginal (Innu) patient navigator with the health authority.
She has moved from Sheshatshiu to St. John’s with her two youngest children, aged six and seven, while her two oldest children remain in Sheshatshiu, where they are finishing the school year.
Abraham said she was interested in the job because she wanted to help her people.
“I knew we needed this position for a long time. A lot of Innu people have been asking (for a patient navigator),” she said during a phone interview from her office in the Health Sciences Centre.
As the only aboriginal patient navigator who speaks Innu-Aimun, Abraham is anxious to help Innu from Natuashish and Sheshatshiu as well as any other aboriginal people who find themselves in St. John’s for medical treatment.
“I’ll be doing some translating. I’ll be helping patients... with accommodations, and transportation,” she said.
Chief delighted with new position
In a statement about Abraham’s position, Eastern Health confirmed the position was created in collaboration with Innu leaders and the Department of Health and Community Services to better meet the needs of Innu clients travelling to St. John’s for healthcare services.
Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation Chief Eugene Hart has been advocating for the patient navigator position for a couple of years and is delighted the new position has been created. Abraham will be there to help patients and their families have a better understanding of their diagnosis and treatment options, he said.
As a new employee, Abraham will shadow Dicker for the first month of her employment.
“We’re very happy that Christine is here with us as part of our team,” said Dicker, who is from Nain. The health authority’s other aboriginal patient navigator is Solomon Semigak, who is from Makkovik.
Although all three employees are based at the Health Sciences Centre, they also offer their services to patients at the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre, St. Clare’s Hospital, Waterford Hospital and the Janeway. They also escort patients to medical appointments throughout the city.
Dicker encourages any aboriginal people who may be in St. John’s for medical treatment to drop by their office in the Health Sciences Centre and ask for assistance.
“That’s what we are here for: to help them,” she said.