Jesse Inkster is passionate about helping people to understand their medications — what they are and why they were prescribed. As Island Health’s new Aboriginal Care Pharmacist, Jesse is particularly enthusiastic about the relationships he is building with people in several First Nations communities, including residents of Penelakut Island near Chemainus.
“We initially visited Penelakut in 2018, putting our clinical pharmacy experience on the table and asking community members there to tell us how we could help,” says Inkster. “Respect is the most important component of these relationships — in order to earn the respect of someone sitting in front of me, they must trust that I am listening and want to help.”
Jesse’s role was created through a collaboration between participating communities, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and Island Health, and builds on work initially undertaken several years prior between First Nations communities, FNHA and the UBC Pharmacists Clinic. It represents an exciting opportunity for Island Health to better meet the needs of people for whom access to care and trusted support can be a challenge.
“We know there are health disparities for Aboriginal people no matter where they live, but those disparities are far more pronounced in rural and remote communities,” says George Nickoloff, Island Health Pharmacy clinical coordinator, Community Hospitals and Long-term Care. “We realized Penelakut Island and the other First Nations communities are places where the need for a clinical pharmacist is great and the willingness to receive the service is also there.”
Funding for this pilot project has been provided by the FNHA and the project will be evaluated after one year. Along with the Penelakut First Nation, other participants include: Ditidaht First Nation, Cowichan Tribes/Ts’ewulhtun Health, Halalt First Nation/H’ulh-etun Health Society, Lake Cowichan First Nation, Stz’uminus First Nation, Malahat First Nation and Hiiye’yu Lelum House of Friendship.
“Pharmacists are often recognized as the most accessible health care provider, but this accessibility is not consistently experienced by all First Nations communities,” says Cindy Preston, FNHA lead pharmacist and Health Benefits Services lead. “There is a need for culturally-safe and holistic medication management that optimizes drug therapy to ensure it is necessary, safe, and effective. It is exciting to see models of care developing that mobilize and utilize the skills of pharmacists as drug therapy experts in the health and care of First Nations communities and patients.”
As the first partnership of its kind in British Columbia, the Aboriginal Care Pharmacist project is aimed at building relationships between Inkster and various First Nations and Indigenous community members, including life-long Penelakut Island resident, Karen Charlie. Charlie and her husband, Richard, have been seeing Inkster since he started visiting Penelakut and credit his expertise and willingness to listen to their concerns with helping them to achieve greater control over their health.
“Jesse has helped us both so much and played a big role in helping my husband understand why his medication had been prescribed and why it is so important to take it regularly,” says Charlie. “I also asked Jesse to come with me to speak with my doctor about my diabetes medication. My meds were changed after that conversation and my diabetes is now under control.”
In April, a talking circle was held on Penelakut Island to understand community members’ experiences with the new service. Participants expressed an appreciation for Inkster’s open, respectful, caring nature and his ability to listen and communicate clearly.
“I can’t even say enough about it because it is so beneficial from the youngest person to the oldest person in our tribe for knowing what their meds are, what they do, and the importance of taking them,” says Karen Charlie. “And personally, with Jesse talking with my doctor about the different alternatives and with them talking with me about what I am going through, my life is more manageable.”
While Inkster is humble about the role he plays, he is also pleased to hear that the regular conversations he has with community members are making a positive impact.
“They speak for me about me and it feels really good to realize that I can help,” he says. “My hope is that people start looking at their medications and realize that they can be the decision makers for their overall health.”