Going to the hospital to receive care may seem like a daunting task to some, especially for First Nations people, as historical trauma and inter-generational trauma may discourage many from seeking the care they need.
That’s where Jane Fox comes in. As the Aboriginal liaison nurse at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital for the last seven years, one of Fox’s main jobs is to advocate on behalf of all First Nations coming into the hospital to ensure that they feel comfortable when seeking care.
“Historically, they aren’t comfortable coming into a non-Indigenous institution,” she said. “Nobody really likes to go to the hospital, but [among] Aboriginal Peoples, there is probably a higher number of people, who don’t like coming.”
In her role, Fox receives referrals from nurses whenever members of First Nation communities receive hospital care, be it through emergency service, surgical day care or out-patient services.
“If I get called and asked to see somebody, I do,” she said. “I also pick up my own referrals just by using the computer system and seeing who is coming into the hospital. I recognize peoples’ names.”
Fox also helps members of First Nations communities stay in touch with each other, consults with local health practitioners, while connecting patients with resources, and serves as a source of information for hospital staff. “I’m also a support for Island Health staff as a go-to person for questions about culture and family systems,” she said.
Fox is the first person to hold the position at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and something that she “really, really wanted” because of her previous work for an Aboriginal health authority and familiarity with region and its people. “It is in my community, I live out here, and I used to work in two of the four Nations [Tseycum and Pauquachin] that surround the hospital [as a community health nurse],” she said.
One of the ways Fox has made the First Nations community feel welcome is through the creation and installation of four welcoming poles outside the hospital in 2015.
Prior to the creation of the totem poles, there was only one piece of First Nations artwork in the hospital. Fox decided that needed to change. So she helped secure funding for the project, and Western Forest Products donated the four old-growth red cedar logs, with the 15-foot totem poles were created by carvers from each of the four Nations in the area — Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum and Pauquachin First Nation.
“People love them,” she said. “They talk about them. They are beautiful.”
Another project close to Fox’s heart is a Journey Home, a project aimed at creating an improved palliative care model for First Nations people.
Starting about five years ago, the hospital hosted several meetings with people from the W’SANEC Nation, and heard loud and clear that people from these communities wanted caregivers at the hospital to understand their cultural ways at this time of life so care on the Palliative Care Unit at the hospital could be more culturally sensitive. They also wanted to be better understood and better supported at home in their community if they chose to keep someone at home in their last days.
From that, the team, including Fox, created a five-month learning opportunity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to educate one another on palliative care that became a broad educational experience for all participating parties.
“The biggest take-away from all of this was the relationship building between the non-Indigenous people and the First Nations people, the people in the community, and the health team and the hospital,” she said.
The entire process was also documented in a new film, called A Journey Home, premiering at Mary Winspear Centre Oct. 30.
Fox looks forward to seeing the film and its portrayal of a far-reaching collective process. But if it captures a sometimes difficult, but ultimately rewarding and successful process, the film’s title also pays tribute to Fox’s personal and professional journey into her position.
At the age of 65, Fox has arrived in a place where she feels she can make the biggest difference.
“This is my dream job at the end of my career,” she said.