The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made for an interesting first few days on the job for the new Health Coordinator for the Strathcona Community Health Network.
Erica Benson started in her new role on March 30. While her initial plans have been changed somewhat because of the virus, she does plan on building relationships with the different communities in the region with the goal of finding solutions to problems that affect people across the region.
“The goals that I walked into the position with have been realigned due to the response to COVID-19. That being said, stepping into a network that already has trust and relationships built has really positioned us to react and respond to COVID-19,” Benson said.
“Right now, the priorities are ensuring the vulnerable populations have essential services provided for them, which are things like housing, access to handwashing stations and bathrooms, and checking in with our regionally-remote communities and making sure that their needs are being met as well. Those are the most immediate goals,” she added.
Benson is not new to the Campbell River area. She grew up in the Saratoga Beach area, but moved away to attend university. After some time working as a public health and community home care nurse on the west coast of Vancouver Island, she is happy to be back in the Strathcona area to contribute to the community.
Her experience as a community health nurse helped expose her to how the networks function, as well as some of the needs felt by people in the communities.
“Especially with home care, you’re in people’s homes, you’re building these relationships and you see how these unmet needs related to the social determinants of health affect individual health,” she explained. “I’ve always been really community minded and drawn to how communities can work together to support one another. It’s been a passion of mine.”
Community health networks work to build collaboration between different sectors on shared goals within the region. Generally, these goals are to strengthen and promote intitatives that focus on the social determinants of health. Things like housing, food security and transportation all fall within this category.
“It’s so we don’t have a duplication of efforts and so we can really share resources and eventually hopefully use that to influence policy and leverage funds for things like supportive housing. It’s the idea that collectively, we are stronger and can achieve more,” Benson explained. “It’s about bringing people together into the conversation to ensure that there’s open communication, transparency and that we can move towards these targets together.”
Though the response to the virus and pandemic are at the front of her mind, Benson’s more long term goals are to help restart conversations around the Urban Indigenous Housing Project and to help the communities within the Strathcona Community Health Network shift to a world post-COVID-19.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see the kinds of shifts in systems that come up and how those relate to how communities would like to work together and whether those priorities will change. I think it’ll be interesting to check in with communities to see if different themes emerge about what we’d like to focus on.”