Harnessing the Community to Better Care for At-Risk Populations

Marla BjorganMarla Bjorgan is a Public Health Nurse described as creative, meticulous, caring, organized and inspiring in many facets of her work.When Marla took on the portfolio of Harm Reduction Public Health Nurse Coordinator she immediately saw a need for improvement and change. There were only basic resources available in the Harm Reduction Program – both for clients as well as nurses.

Marla wanted to change this situation and recognized she could not do so alone. Taking a community development approach, she brought together clients, coworkers, community health care providers and businesses to assist with this challenge. Her approach speaks of a deep understanding of the importance of respecting the choices and autonomy of people using substances in order to empower them to make informed and healthier choices.

The list of resources and programs that Marla has created is impressive. She created a photo menu of harm reduction options for clients with lower literacy that also supports staff as they talk with clients about harm reduction options. She also developed a resource binder for staff and community providers in the North Okanagan.

Marla partnered with community agencies to increase their knowledge, skills, and resources related to harm reduction. She worked with pharmacies to expand the hours that supplies are available to clients. She partnered with an alternative school program to increase students’ access to basic immunizations as well as immunizations that provide extra protection to those with higher risk lifestyles. Marla also worked with the health centre’s frontline administrative staff members, educating them about harm reduction principles and products to help them feel comfortable with their role in the program.

Marla has been a master at engaging her local community to increase access to safer injection, inhalation and sex supplies – and in doing so she has shown how using a community development process has the ability to change the health outcomes of a population at risk.

The creativity, organization, and care that Marla shows in the Harm Reduction portfolio is also evident in her other areas of work. From supporting families with newborn babies to her work in the immunization program, she strives to provide the best care possible. Marla is also known in her community as the nurse with the remote-controlled bubble machine that she uses to soothe the many toddlers and children who come to her for immunizations.