Help Desk for Indigenous Leadership: Supporting remote communities remotely

By Aldis Brennan, Canadian Red Cross
 
With her outstretched arm leading the way, phone in hand, Cindy Chapados slowly walks around a hotel in Peace River, Alberta. The camera is not pointed at her, however, but the building itself: the rooms, the hallways, the offices. Questions and words of encouragement emanate from the phone as she paces the deserted floors.
 
Cindy Chapados doing a walkthrough of the COVID-19 isolation centre she’s worked to set up for members of the five Nations that make up the Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal CouncilChapados is doing a virtual walkthrough of the COVID-19 isolation centre she’s worked to set up for members of the five Nations that make up the Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council. On the other end of the line is the Canadian Red Cross. A two-person team made up of experts in emergency response and health. This is the Help Desk for Indigenous Leadership in action.
 
“What we were doing was setting up an isolation and wellness centre for COVID-positive patients,” Chapados, who is a Regional Coordinator for Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council said. “So, clients in our community that test positive for COVID but are healthy enough to isolate without medical attention have somewhere to go.”
 
This is important because the unfortunate reality is that in some cases poor housing and overcrowding can put an entire multi-generational family home at risk should the disease enter the community.
 
“Those were the ones that we kind of needed an option to move them so the whole household wasn’t around the COVID patient,” Chapados said. “The other thing we plan to use the isolation centre for is if there’s someone in a household that’s immune-compromised or has some kind of health issue that puts them at a higher risk for COVID, we could take them to Peace River and put them in a separate wing to stay in isolation away from the family member with COVID.”
 
The Tribal Council was already well underway setting up the site by the time they reached out to the Help Desk. They needed some feedback and support but weren’t quite sure how it was going to be offered.
 
“I was wondering are they going to tell me what to do? Are they going to say, ‘No this is wrong?’ But they were great to work with,” Chapados said “They made you feel confident. They didn’t override your decisions. It was more of a friendship rather than someone telling you what to do. We also got to show them what we had already done, and they really liked some of the ideas. So, it was more of a mutual support system which was fantastic.”
 
After the virtual walkthrough, the Help Desk team followed up again to gain insight into the bigger picture, how all the pieces they saw in the tour fit together. Then they provided their recommendations.
 
Cindy Chapados standing in front of the isolation centre she worked to set up“The one thing I was having a little harder time with was the donning and doffing areas because it’s a hotel, not a healthcare facility,” Chapados said. “They had a lot of good feedback for us like recommendations on how we could set that up properly, how we could screen the staff when they came in, and the best use of PPE.”
 
All in, the support amounted to several meetings, telephone conversations, and few emails back and forth — provided at no cost to the community due to funding provided by the Government of Canada. Time, Chapados believes, was well spent. But more than that, they now know who to ask if the need arises again.
 
“We have this connection now and we’re comfortable with them,” Chapados said. “That’s the biggest challenge for communities. Sometimes you talk to people and you’re like ‘No, this isn’t for us.’ and you never reach out to them again. But they were great.”
 
With the isolation centre now in place Chapados feels confident that the five Nations she supports are better prepared to deal with COVID-19 and other emergencies.
 
“We haven’t had to use it to date, we’re worried it’s going to come,” Chapados said. “But we’re ready.”

Learn more about how we're providing resources to Indigenous communities during the pandemic.

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