How do you know for sure how sick your child is if you don’t have a thermometer at home?
That’s the puzzle HealthLine 811 registered nurses are aiming to solve with their thermometer distribution pilot project.
Colleen Bear (L-R), aboriginal health co-ordinator at Broadview Hospital, Louise Walker, health consultant with First Nations and Métis Relations, and Karen Holloway, health promotions volunteer co-ordinator with Prairie East Primary Health Care Network, at the safety fair at Cowessess First Nation Community Education Centre on July 17. Bear, Walker and Holloway are SHA employees.
“We have a lot of people calling into HealthLine 811 with sick children or babies,” said Roberta Wiest, director of Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA’s) HealthLine 811/Provincial MAID Program. Wiest and Sangeeta Gupta, HealthLine 811 manager, are the project leads. “The first thing HealthLine 811 registered nurses will do for an unwell child is conduct a health assessment. We found that a lot of parents and grandparents don’t have a thermometer to take the temperature of their child.”
HealthLine 811 caller data, collected in 2014, showed an average of 33 per cent of callers don’t have this simple tool. In one former region, the percentage was 89 per cent. Among those with the greatest need were First Nations families living on reserve.
In July, members of the HealthLine 811/Provincial MAID Program took part in a First Nations sweat lodge ceremony and feast in support of the thermometer distribution pilot project. Pictured are (back row [L-R]) Jessica Niyongabo; Michelle Fisher; Karen French; (middle row [L-R]) Lorissa Vye; Laura Matz; Sangeeta Gupta; Roberta Wiest; Corey Miller (vice president of Provincial Programs), Rod MacKenzie (executive director, Provincial Services & Community Care), Dr. Rob Weiler, Trevor Cameron, Coralee Prodaehl and (front row) Karen Dickson.
Not having a thermometer may seem like an inconsequential thing, but its absence creates a lot of uncertainty.
“If we knew what the child’s temperature was, we could provide a complete and accurate health assessment and triage advice, potentially saving families a trip to the hospital,” said Wiest.
Without that knowledge, HealthLine 811 registered nurses will err on the side of caution, sending the child to the emergency department if symptoms warrant, she said.
A trip to emergency is not always an easy task, said Louise Walker, health consultant for the First Nations and Métis Relations Regina Office.
“Travel can be a barrier. People may not have transportation, especially in rural areas. Parents may have no money for gas or no one to drive them.”
The solution seemed obvious to HealthLine 811 registered nurses. Get thermometers into the hands of those who need them most and get the word out about the services of HealthLine 811 so people know where to go for health advice.
This summer, HealthLine 811 launched a social media campaign to increase the service’s profile and began creating partnerships across the SHA to aid in the distribution of the more than 4,000 thermometers purchased as part of the pilot program.
“Ongoing and new partnerships around the province are essential to ensure the thermometers get to the people in the most need,” said Wiest. HealthLine 811 staff are centrally located in Regina.
In July, partners participated in a sweat lodge ceremony, organized by Saskatchewan Health Authority’s First Nations and Métis Relations (FNMR). The ceremony was held to ask – in a First Nations traditional way – for good outcomes for the project.
“The thermometer distribution pilot project is an unassuming but important way to play a role in closing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and honour the intent of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s health-related Calls to Action,” said Wiest.
The FNMR Regina Office is a partner supporting the initiative.
This summer, Louise Walker, a health consultant with FNMR, has spoken with dozens of community members and handed out more than 100 thermometers as part of her daily work and at community events. She participated in the George Gordon First Nation Health Fair on June 6, the Cowessess First Nation Safety Fair on July 17, and will be taking part in the North Central Health Fair at mâmawêyatitân centre in Regina on Aug. 21.
She said people have welcomed the thermometer initiative. While some knew about HealthLine 811’s services, many did not.
Of particular interest, was the availability of translation services. “People were interested to find out that HealthLine 811 offers live translation services in more than 100 languages, including 21 Indigenous languages. Cree, Dene, French and Michif are among them.”
While the initial focus of the campaign is on southern Saskatchewan, Wiest’s long-term aim is to collaborate with partners throughout the SHA and expand the program province-wide.
“Better care and better health is our ultimate goal.”
What is HealthLine 811?
HealthLine 811 is a confidential, 24-hour health and mental health and addictions advice, education and support telephone line available to Saskatchewan people of all ages. It is staffed by experienced and specially trained registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and registered social workers.
HealthLine 811 is free. Services are offered in English, with translation available in over 100 languages. To reach the service, simply dial 8-1-1 or, for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, call 1-800-855-1155.