Resident physicians partner with Alberta shelters for the PARAdime initiative


February 25, 2014

L to R: Dr. Andrew Wing, Dr. Jonathan C. Somerville, Dr. Paula L. Burke, Dr. Murray J. Rodych and Dr. Allison Sweeney

On a frigid day last February, cold winds blew along the partially deserted streets of Red Deer. Car exhaust lingered in the air, warning anyone in its path of the treacherous conditions outside.

As resident physicians exited their vehicles to deliver donations to the Safe Harbour Society shelter, even the warmth of wool mittens and toques could not protect them from the assault of winter.

This frozen landscape was a bone-chilling reminder why the PARAdime campaign exists: to serve countless individuals in Alberta communities who struggle to find the most basic of life’s necessities as a result of poverty and homelessness. Shelter is essential for life in our Alberta winters.

A sense of community

Pull quoteIn a quest to play a greater role in the community of Red Deer, resident physicians arranged to meet with a representative from the Safe Harbour Society, a local shelter, to gain insight into the organization and what it does. It was an eye-opening experience for us to hear about the challenges that many of our less fortunate neighbors and sometimes patients face on a daily basis.

Our discussions with the shelter staff left us reflecting on the experience of some of our patients who do not have homes; where do they go after being discharged from the hospital and how much more difficult is it for them to stay healthy when meeting their basic needs, such as food and shelter, is already a struggle?

A strong sense of community is often what attracts graduating medical students to pursue a career in rural medicine. Knowing your neighbors, having the clerks at the local grocery store know your name, and the friendly wave of a colleague at the neighborhood park are all aspects of community life that are not always available in the city.

Rural physicians have the unique opportunity to know patients outside of the hospital walls and clinic doors, but even here, we are not always as aware of the day-to-day realities of the less fortunate within our communities.

PARAdime logo 2014Access to food and shelter are fundamentally important to health. Filling a prescription or returning for a follow-up appointment – health care basics that the rest of us often take for granted – are sometimes out of reach when survival is a struggle.

When the time came for resident physicians in Red Deer to be involved with PARAdime, a charity drive for the homeless, we decided the Safe Harbour Society would be a perfect organization with which to partner.

The PARAdime encompasses the true spirit of rural medicine; being accountable to one’s neighbors and seeking to improve the community as a whole. Last year’s PARAdime drive marked the fourth annual campaign for Calgary and Edmonton, but was the first time Alberta’s rural resident physicians were involved in the initiative.

Word spread quickly within the rural medical community, and soon Grande Prairie and Lethbridge resident physicians were also supporting their local shelters.

A little wiser and more aware

After several months of collections from residents and attending staff physicians, numerous backpacks filled with warm clothing, non-perishable food and other survival necessities were delivered to the Safe Harbour Society.

On that very cold drop-off day, we were inspired when we saw two of the backpacks going directly to individuals who had to leave the shelter that day. They would have otherwise had only the clothes on their backs, as they headed out into the cold. The backpacks ensured that these individuals left a little warmer with the knowledge that they were not quite so alone.

 For us, it was powerful to know that the bags were making a direct and immediate difference for two members of our community.

Pull quoteFollowing the delivery of the last bag, we climbed back into our warmed vehicles and returned to our homes a little wiser, a little more aware and a much more grateful for what we have.

The PARAdime initiative is a reminder that the goal of keeping Albertans healthy cannot stop at the doors of our medical centers; the nature of people’s experiences in the community plays an integral role in their health and in the well-being of our community.

It is our duty as good neighbors and responsible citizens to address the gaps created by economic and social disparity – our communities will be stronger for it.

The donations collected for the fifth annual PARAdime will be delivered by the resident physicians to local shelters in their area for Resident Physician Awareness Day in February 2014.

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