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Nurses at Cook Street health co-op are taking patients

Community health co-operative in Cook Street Village in Fairfield says it has three registered nurses who can handle many health concerns that don’t require a doctor
From left, nurse Diane Hunt, chairperson Vanessa Hammond and nurse Genevieve Dear at the Victoria Community Health Co-op. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A community health co-opera­tive in Cook Street Village in Fairfield says it has three registered nurses who can ­handle many health concerns that don’t require a doctor and are taking patients.

People often believe they need a doctor when a nurse might be the appropriate choice, said Vanessa Hammond, chair of the Victoria Community Health Co-operative.

“People think they need a doctor, so automatically go line up for a doctor when, in fact, a nurse would be really appropriate,” said Hammond.

“The scope of practice of registered nurses is actually quite huge.”

Two of the three part-time registered nurses at the co-op focus more on physical health, while the other focuses on mental health.

Registered nurses are licensed to check blood pressure and blood sugar, screen for chronic diseases, provide wound and injury care, and conduct wellness checks for coping, mobility, medication compliance and nutrition. They can also help people navigate the health-care system and explain tests ordered by a family doctor.

Registered nurses can also provide referrals to other ­community or health services, such as physiotherapy, ­massage, optometry, hearing tests, ­pharmacy, testing, or diagnostics, and help patients develop a plan to address medical ­concerns such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lung or heart problems.

While they are not licensed to refill or prescribe medication, make a medical diagnosis, make referrals to specialist physicians, or order tests, they can provide patients with guidance.

Unlike family doctors, who might have a roster of 1,200 to 1,500 patients, the co-op nurses don’t have formal patient ­rosters, although regular patients tend to get booked with the same nurses, said Hammond.

The registered nurses are available to anyone with a B.C. Services Card, formerly called a Care Card. A co-op membership is not required for an appointment.

The B.C. Association of Community and Co-operative Health Centres negotiates funding through the Health Ministry that covers the nurses’ salaries and directly related costs. The co-operative uses donations and grants to pay for its other wellness programming.

Those who want to have a say in how the co-op operates and support the service can apply for memberships. If approved, the cost for a first-time annual membership is $50 and renewal is $35. There are also “as you can afford” fee options.

Originally located in James Bay, the co-op moved to an activity centre in Cook Street Village a few years ago. Last month, it moved into a much larger space just down the street at 1075 Pendergast St., above the Starbucks coffee shop.

“Our space and our availability have increased and we want to make sure they are fully used but we’re not quite there yet,” said Hammond.

If a patient needs a doctor or a nurse practitioner, the nurses can often help co-ordinate that or link them with the right services.

Hammond said one of the things that differentiates the co-op from other medical clinics is it focuses on maintaining health and wellness — “helping people look after their own health.”

The clinic nurses want to ensure that patients don’t end up needing medical or surgical care: “That’s when you’ve lost your health,” said Hammond. “Our nurses are very healthy and they work at it and they are very keen on helping other people to stay healthy too.”

Free wellness seminars are held twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The co-op partners with the Creating Community Wellness Society, a registered charity, to offer its wellness services and programs at no cost.

Hammond, who has worked as a co-op developer in 35 countries, believes the ideal range of services includes nurse practitioners, nutritionists, kinesiologists, and counsellors working in partnership with each other and community organizations. “We would very much like to have a nurse practitioner,” said Hammond, noting that would require much-desired additional funding.

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