A doctor and an Indigenous family service administrator are being recognized for their efforts to improve the community.
Dr. Tracey Thorne, head of rural and remote Division of Family Practice for Gabriola Island, and Bill Yoachim, Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services executive director, are being conferred with B.C. Achievement Foundation’s community awards.
Yoachim’s work includes establishment of “cutting-edge programs and policies … which ensure all First Nations youths be cared for and served,” noted a foundation press release. Thorne was instrumental in the additions of a mental health-substance abuse nurse and a social worker on Gabriola Island.
Both said they are happy to receive the awards.
Thorne said the need for better mental health support arose from a rash of suicides on Gabriola, with 13 suicides between 2010-13 for a population of 4,000.
“It was very, very distressing to our community, because we’re a small community, we know each other, and it wasn’t just the relationships that created the distress around the suicides and the mental health crises we were facing, it was really the numbers and the fact that we were having a very difficult time accessing care for our patients,” said Thorne.
Help wasn’t tenable given difficulties of ferry travel to Nanaimo, said Thorne. Someone with specific training was needed and the nurse can assist with mental health intake, connecting people to counselling supports and psychiatry, and also offer support during crisis, bereavement or other mental health crisis situations, she said.
The social worker came about as part of a pilot project through the rural and remote Division of Family Practice, which Thorne said has continued to be funded by Island Health.
“So now our mental health nurse and our social worker, who has the official title of a mental health clinician … are able to work in partnership with each other and with us to really wrap around the needs of our patients and what they should be accessing for social and mental health support,” said Thorne.
As for Yoachim, he said he is most proud of the Step Up program that prepares youths for education, job readiness and strengthening social and relationship skills.
“Many people have done great work in this process, the school district, the nations’ families, etc.,” said Yoachim. “We feel the way you’re going to break the cycle of children coming into care and social issues, is education. Western education, but equally as important is also their Indigenous education and their culture. So blending the two together is what it’s all about and that’s our goal.”
Financial discrepancies exist between children served by Kw’umut Lelum and those who aren’t, according to Yoachim, and formation of the Kw’umut Lelum Foundation, a charitable organization led by Coast Salish Nations, funds projects for Indigenous peoples. It is something he is pleased to have helped with.
“You should not have to be in Kw’umut Lelum’s care to reap the benefits of cultural programming … so the financial gap, it was quite glaring,” said Yoachim. “We created this foundation, working alongside [former Vancouver Island University president Ralph Nilson], with the support of the leadership to look forward to having a space to fill those gaps when there’s a need.”
Thorne and Yoachim will be formally recognized at a ceremony at Victoria on Tuesday, May 10, with B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.