SIB health director reflects on opportunity

·3 min read

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while many companies have implemented hiring freezes, a Métis citizen recently landed a new opportunity in the Columbia Valley.

Danielle Armstrong joined the Shuswap Indian Band (SIB) in Invermere as the nation’s health director for members on March 9, 2020.

“I’m really enjoying the openness of the community members and how welcoming they are towards me and my family. It’s been really nice. No two days are alike which is great,” said Armstrong. “It’s a great opportunity for personal and professional growth to help establish their health department. It’s a great team also at SIB. I’m really enjoying working with everybody here.”

After serving the Kootenay Brain Injury Association as an executive director and as a frontline outreach worker for 11 years while raising a family, Armstrong was studying rehabilitation diploma to accompany her experience as a care aide and bookkeeper.

The SIB health unit has a clinical room, a counselling room and a multi-purpose room available for members. There are a total of 10 team members at the SIB’s health centre focused on serving band members in a wide variety of services. SIB community home nurse Melissa Addis and home care aide Jaclyn Fontaine are regularly available.

Dr. Gareth Mannheimer visits the SIB members as a general practitioner.

Patricia Duffy Atkin serves the community as a mental health counsellor.

Ktunaxa member Ashley Oddy visits the community as a social worker, while Ktunaxa member Catherine Strachan offers services to band members as a dietician.

Brenda Mitchell provides foot care to band members, primarily for patients who have diabetes and requires ongoing treatments.

Radium business owner Lyn Birkett of Rising Sun Massage provides treatments to members of the SIB through an affiliation with the health unit.

Jennifer Driscoll works collaboratively with Armstrong to facilitate the Interior Health Authority’s (IHA) harm reduction program for those in need. The duo provides fentanyl testing strips and education, as well as naloxone kits to help mitigate the risk of overdoses in the community to help end the stigma associated with substance abuse.

The SIB health unit obtained approval to become an official harm reduction site for the District of Invermere (DOI) in 2018 and has continued to maintain the credentials to offer the program to Indigenous communities as well as to provide support for any other member of the Columbia Valley community.

“We’re actually an official site for Invermere, so anyone can come and use the program,” said Armstrong, noting that fentanyl testing and offering safe training have recently been added to the SIB’s health unit.

In addition, the SIB health unit began offering a delivery meal program to vulnerable people and seniors from the community every Wednesday since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

When asked what the biggest challenge of starting her role at the SIB’s health unit during a global health care crisis, Armstrong replied, “I’ve really enjoyed my time here and all that I’m learning. It’s just been a really positive experience as a whole, both moving to the area and being so welcomed in my role. I’m super happy.”

Breanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer