Oak Tree Clinic at BC Women’s provides specialized HIV care for women, children and their families. The patient population is varied with unique needs, where a team provides care tailored to each individual and family.
Our outreach workers provide frontline care and support ensuring patients are continuing to access the care they require. Many aren’t aware of the kind of work our outreach workers provide, therefore we’d like to focus and share what a typical day may look like for one of our outreach workers Ainslie Cook.
Can you describe what a typical day may look like?
It is really hard to describe a typical day, because I don't think such a thing exists! My co-outreach worker, Cara, and I really take on such varied roles. We may help transport an Oak Tree patient to their medical appointment at the clinic, possibly with a child in tow. Since we work with many women facing multiple barriers in their lives, we sometimes spend our time actively looking for our clients if they don't show up at the agreed-upon meeting place. We often work with women over a very long period of time, and naturally become close to our clients and are genuinely concerned for their safety and wellbeing. This might include looking for them at InSite, at shelters, or at places where we know they spend their time. It's not always glamorous, but we rarely have a dull day!
Other parts of our day might include accompanying a client to her intake interview at A Loving Spoonful, which provides nutritious meals to people living with HIV, or visiting an Oak Tree patient in hospital. We also spend a lot of time advocating for the needs of our clients – often by writing letters to and calling the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
Bottom line, we support our clients however they request to be supported, often coordinating care through other allies and agencies.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
There are many challenges working in this role – I feel as though I'm always working to break down systemic and structural barriers to get my clients' basic needs met. There continues to be, unfortunately, many misconceptions and myths about HIV, which increase the stigma and risk for my clients.
It's also incredibly challenging losing clients, and this past year has been one of Oak Tree's hardest. We have not been immune to the opioid crisis and we have lost some patients to overdoses. Because we provide such caring and comprehensive care to our patients, the entire team is affected when we lose someone.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Despite the many daily challenges in this role, I take great joy in the many small victories my clients and I achieve. Witnessing them start to believe in themselves and recognize their self-worth is truly an honour. I take pride in my role knowing that I'm making a genuine human connection with my clients; women who often feel judged and misunderstood. It's also extremely rewarding to be a valued member of such an extraordinary interdisciplinary team.