By Paige Goodman

Reprinted with permission from http://www.lighthousesaskatoon.org

When Jeannie Coe steps into her office at The Lighthouse, she has no idea what the day will bring her. As a nurse practitioner employed through Saskatoon Health Region, she has to be ready for anything. Coe and her colleague Donna McKnight, a registered psychiatric nurse, are on the front lines of primary health care at The Lighthouse.

Jeannie Coe and Donna McKnight

Donna McKnight (left), a registered psychiatric nurse, and Nurse Practitioner Jeannie Coe are on the front lines of primary health care at The Lighthouse.

Coe and McKnight run a drop-in clinic for anyone staying or living at The Lighthouse, helping people on a first come, first served basis. “People can show up or call or leave a note and say I have a medical concern or a health concern or I have a need and I need to see you,” says Coe.

Though Coe emphasizes that this is not a doctor’s office, clients don’t need to make an appointment and they don’t need to have a family physician. Both nurses are experienced and knowledgeable, and as a nurse practitioner Coe can, “diagnose and treat common medical disorders, including ordering diagnostic tests, x-rays, lab work, ultrasounds and prescribe medication.”

Clients are welcome to come see McKnight or Coe for anything from an episodic illness, such as a cold or the flu, to a serious chronic illness. “We do have a lot of people living with Hep C, HIV and chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, COPD, depression and anxiety,” describes Coe, “but we also have some more complicated people with cystic fibrosis, schizophrenia, bi-polar disease and pre-natal clients who are homeless, living in poverty often with infectious diseases as well.”

For more complicated presentations, Coe helps connect her patients to a specialist or family physician, ensuring they receive the care they need. “We highlight that the Westside Clinic is a great support to us. There are eight family doctors and a nurse practitioner that work out of there, and we get a lot of people attached to that clinic.”

Before coming to The Lighthouse, Coe was a nurse practitioner in Northern Saskatchewan, “I worked with an excellent team in La Ronge that gave me invaluable experience about providing holistic care to people.” The Lighthouse has adopted the holistic care practice, meaning both nurses seek to treat not only their patient’s body, but also provide culturally appropriate emotional, mental and spiritual care.

“One thing we try to do here is be very opportunistic,” says Coe, “so it’s not like you come in and we can only deal with one thing, as you hear can happen in other places. So when they’re here and they’re engaged we do as much for them as we can.”

Sometimes the best service Coe can provide is lending an ear, “Lots of times it’s just listening with compassion, that’s what meets their need at the time. We hear often that’s really what they’re after and that’s how they find their way through some of their struggles, if they know that there’s somebody there to listen to them. That’s what makes this such rewarding work.”

Kevin Ohlheiser is a resident of the Affordable Living Suites. He came to The Lighthouse in February and stayed in the Emergency Shelter briefly. When an independent apartment became available, Ohlheiser and a roommate moved in.

“Jeannie has been very helpful, it’s nice to have that support, medical and counselling all here in The Lighthouse,” says Ohlheiser,  “I feel comfortable coming down here, as I told Leanne [the addictions counsellor], I feel like I have four or five counsellors, Jeannie being one of them. Things, they get busy here, and you know sometimes Leanne and I try to get together and we can’t, and I’ll go down and talk to Jeannie or Donna. And she’s taking care of all my medical now.”

Coe says the biggest barrier to caring for clients at The Lighthouse is treating concurrent addictions, “people struggling to manage their addictions impacts their health and impacts their ability to engage in a plan for their care.”

She sees many relapses in addictions with her patients, due to the nature of having clients at different points in their recovery under one roof, “we’ve got people active in their addiction right next to the people that are just on their first steps out of it,” Coe says the solution is “to find adequate housing in the community. If we relocate them, they can start their journey.”

For Kevin Ohlheiser, living at The Lighthouse is the best thing for him right now, “my goal is recovery, and being able to talk to these people like Jeannie is very helpful and reassuring, knowing that there’s somebody here.” He says his full time job now is getting a grasp on recovery, “It’s been helpful, I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time to really start this process. I’ll take a serious run at it. I’m learning with the help of Jeannie and Leanne.”