HIV North: Offering Care & Support in Our Community
In 1987, HIV North Society (formally the South Peace AIDS Council) opened its doors as a place to provide care and support for people living with HIV and those at risk of infection. Fast forward to today, HIV North has twenty-three employees serving Northern Alberta out of two offices: Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. All three sites offer a range of Harm Reduction services aimed at meeting our clients “where they are it” without judgement. HIV awareness, prevention, care and support encompass all of our services as we aim for zero – zero new infections, zero transmissions and zero AIDS-related deaths. With more than 75,000 Canadians and close to 6000 Albertans testing positive since the 80’s, our work is far from over.
The Fort McMurray office, opening in 2012, has steadily increased services to the community. Four team members work diligently within Fort McMurray and surrounding communities providing the resources, tools and knowledge to assist in safer decision making. The risks associated with an HIV infection are the same as other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections; however, HIV is incurable. HIV North Society works at reducing these risks.
HIV North provides a number of services that are available to everyone in the community and surrounding areas. These services include harm reduction, client support, education, outreach services, and provision of harm reduction supplies. Meeting individuals where they are at involves openness, honesty and a non-judgemental attitude which is felt by our clients when they walk in our door. We understand each individual has a unique story and has walked their own path bringing them to this moment; clients are supported regardless of their past or present situations. The key is tailoring our approach to meet each individual’s needs at that time. We believe everyone has the right to be treated equally.
Street level support in Fort McMurray’s downtown core is provided by our Regional Outreach Worker who focuses on education and distributing safer injection and safer sex supplies. Daily visits with clients at the Fellowship Baptist Church Soup Kitchen, Centre of Hope and weekly visits to Nistawoyou Friendship Centre helps build connection and maintain relationships with individuals at risk.
HIV, Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction and Gender and Sexual Diversity are topics covered by our Educator and hosted throughout the Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Connections have been made in Anzac, Janvier, Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan to provide awareness education as we strive to reach all populations in our region. Presentations can be tailored to meet the needs of any group, regardless of size. Many organizations such as Unity House Women’s Shelter, the Mark Amy Treatment Centre and Pastew Place Detox Centre see our presentation regularly. As infection rates in Alberta rise, the need for more education becomes evident. We are continually seeking new partnerships as we understand it takes the whole community to make an impact.
A new and exciting partnership with Syncrude was established in 2015. HIV education and related resources are being provided to Syncrude staff to promote awareness as well as occupational health and safety. A “Sex at Site” campaign was launched in 2014 to remind workers to use personal protective equipment on and off site encouraging safer sex supply use. There is nothing sexier than safe sex!
We are fortunate to work closely with Waypoints, the family and crisis society in Fort McMurray. Collaborative partnerships are essential to HIV North Society’s work. In partnership with HIV Edmonton, the African Caribbean Black (ACB) Collaborative in Fort McMurray was launched supporting the ACB community. A strong connection with Keyano College brings second and third year nursing students to our office helping to gain a deeper understanding of vulnerable populations.
As fentanyl and opioid-related overdoses have nearly doubled each year since 2011, HIV North Society started delivering the Take Home Naloxone (THN) program in July of 2015. 270 fatal opioid-related overdoses occurred in Alberta during 2015; 18 in Fort McMurray. 2016 stats for the first three-quarters of the year are over 300 opioid-related deaths. The Street Nurse is trained to provide education on the Take Home Naloxone Kit which can reverse fatal, unintentional opioid overdose. Opioids include substances such as fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and heroin. THN kits and education are available at our office for free to anyone who is using or who has used opioids.
The Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life, held each year in September, is our largest fundraiser. We are always looking for volunteers and walkers for this fun-filled family day.
HIV North is always looking for new community partnerships and organizations to team up with. Give us a call, stop in and see us at the office, or join us on outreach to find out from the front line what work we do in the community.
HIV North is located in the Redpoll Centre at Shell Place and is open from 9:00-4:30, Monday-Friday. You can also visit us online at www.hivnorth.org or check us out on Facebook.