Severe shortages lead to innovative solutions

In an effort to increase the access to rehabilitation services in First Nations communities, UBC Department of Physical Therapy Northern and Rural Cohort Coordinator, Robin Roots has been offering a Rehabilitation Therapy Support Skills (RTSS) training program for First Nations communities in northern BC . This pilot project which is funded by the Ministry of Health was developed in partnership with Tracy Dignum, PT, Coordinator of the Rehabilitation Assistant Program at Capilano University, and Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) – a health care organization offering services to eleven First Nations in North central BC.

The RTSS is a certificate program that prepares learners to work under the supervision of occupational therapists (OTs) and physiotherapists (PTs) in CSFS communities.  Graduates of the certificate program are equipped with skills to support rehabilitation therapy service delivery by assisting clients in managing impairments and developing, maintaining or restoring skills to achieve optimal levels of activity and participation. The program teaches students to integrate Western theories and approaches to rehabilitation with local traditional First Nations healing methods and values.

This initiative is the first step in the development of a sustainable service delivery model that will provide community-based rehabilitation (CBR) to remote First Nations communities. Community based rehabilitation is an internationally recognized model of community development that focuses on involving the community in identifying and delivering health, education and social services they deem as important. Currently, these remote communities are visited by an itinerant registered physiotherapist PT and OT once a month or once every two months. By increasing the capacity of local Care Aides and Early Childhood Educators to assist in the provision of rehabilitation services, the PT and OT will be able to transfer some of the treatment and home programs to these care workers trained in rehab skills who will then be able to work with the community on increasing mobility, function and independence. There is also a focus on the prevention and management of chronic diseases and injuries that result in decreased abilities and function, and on increasing physical activity.

The certificate program consists of 5 modules that cover basic anatomy and physiological principles of injury and healing, proper use of gait aides and common exercises that are prescribed post operatively. The pilot started in June with three early childhood educators, three home care aides and one registered nurse as trainees.  The training took place in Vanderhoof and these learners are currently providing services to the communities of Nadleh, Saik’uz, Stellat’en, Nee Tahi Buhn, Cheslatta, Yekooche, Burns Lake Band and Wet’suwet’en. The courses are primarily taught by Tracy and Robin, while bringing in local expertise such as UBC PT clinical faculty member Hilary Crowley.

Building on a similar training model that was run in northern Quebec, Robin hopes to gather data on community outcomes and through program evaluation that will enable her to make a case for increased rehabilitation services in underserviced regions and expanding this program to other communities.