Juliette Gay, a regular patient at the North End Community Health Centre, doesn’t dread visiting her doctor. In fact, she enjoys it. “It’s convenient for where I’m living now, but I like going there. My doctor, Dr. Watson, I just love her,” says Gay, a north end resident who has been a patient at the health centre for the past five years. “Anybody else I go see, they tell me this stuff’s all in my head, but not her,” she says. “She’s put me through the tests to see what’s wrong and sure enough, there’s things wrong. Everything is taken care of. The other down there too, they’re all nice.”
On May 24, the centre, located at 2165 Gottingen just north of Cornwallis, will host the second Women’s Wellness and Health Fair. Gay attended the first health fair in October and is planning to go to the event on the 24th. “It’s a ball. They answered a lot of my questions. I mentioned it to my sister and she’s coming with me. ”
The fair was launched as the result of studies done through the clinic that showed women in the neighbourhood were not visiting their doctors as often as is recommended by Health Canada.
“Though there is mammogram screening at the Halifax Shopping Centre, women would just never go,” says Marilyn Rutherford, one of two nurse practitioners who work at the centre. “It speaks to the social issues in our area. Transportation is an issue.”
The clinic serves more than 7,000 clients using a community centre model: doctors are salaried and not on fee-for-service.
“The North End Community Health Centre was started across the street by three women, three members of the community—they had three chairs and a table out front—and a physician,” explains development manager Mary-Catherine LeVatte. “There is a community here that doesn’t exist in the rest of the HRM. The problem we’re facing is being more accessible to that community. In the last year of operation at the centre, only 28 percent of the women who attended between the ages of 40 and 70 had an annual pap test, and the national rate is 40 percent. That was one of driving factors behind having the fair.”
LeVatte talks about statistics collected by the clinic through their billings. “Seventeen percent of the people who come to the centre live above the poverty level,” she says. “We see a lot of young mothers.” Rutherford mentions that one of the doctors on staff treats five generations from one family. “A lot of our people are single parents,” says LeVatte. “Some work in the sex trade, some have mental health issues. When you live in a marginalized area you have literacy issues and healthy lifestyle choices.”
The second annual fair will address many of these concerns. The clinic will close down for the day and make its space open to a number of local organizations, allowing them to answer questions and provide some general social services, others specific to women’s health. Local groups planning to attend include Move More, an organization promoting the benefits of exercise; the Black Women’s Health Organization; Aboriginal Women’s Health; the Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association and Planned Parenthood.
Nova Scotia breast and gynecological cancer screeners will be present, including a mobile mammography unit brought in from Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro. The unit was intended to help provide access to breast exams for women who live in outlying areas of the province, but as it turns out, the populations of the north end and rural Nova Scotia share some similarities.
“People in rural areas, they prefer to stay in their community that they know, where they’re comfortable,” says LeVatte. “Sometimes it’s difficult for rural people to travel, and it’s difficult for our people.” Rutherford adds, “We do have an interdisciplinary team, a social worker, a nutritionist, mental health nurses, addiction counsellors —we’re able to offer a lot of services on site. But some things we need to bring in from elsewhere. That was the case we made to the mobile unit, women who would ordinarily never have a mammogram, this would be accessible for them.”
Women’s Wellness and health fair, North End community Health centre, may 24, 10am-4pm.