Harm Reduction Coordinator, Fraser Health
With unrelenting motivation and fueled by kindness and compassion, Erin Gibson has worked to develop and expand a harm reduction program within Fraser Health for the last five years. Attentively listening to individuals of all walks of life and building relationships and extensive networks, she has challenged her peers and everyone around her to work together towards building a more comprehensive and seamless system of care.
Throughout her career, Erin has demonstrated a unique ability to build trust and relationships with people and organizations whose beliefs or practices are sometimes at odds with the health care system. Harm reduction is a challenging and often contentious subject and Erin can often be found meeting with individuals who are either homeless, currently using substances or have previously used substances. These individuals often experience extraordinary stigma but her caring and compassionate way of connecting on a personal level, and seeking out their knowledge and experience and making them feel valued, allows her to draw upon their perspectives to assist in planning services in the region.
In 2016, Erin and the harm reduction team distributed over 800 Take Home Naloxone kits – which are key to treating overdoses – across Fraser Health, distributing them to people who are in positions to save lives, people who use substances, and their families and friends. She worked diligently to prevent overdoses and overdose deaths even before a Public Health Emergency was declared in April 2016 and, after the declaration, her leadership and insight were instrumental at a time when the emergency situation was rapidly evolving. That’s just an example of her dedication to changing the organizational culture, improving access for individuals who use substances, and reducing the stigma they face when accessing health care.
Truly committed to ensuring services reach those who are most in need, Erin is an exemplary team player and is known in the community as a reliable go-to person for her knowledge of harm reduction practices and principles. Everyone – from point-of-care staff to medical health officers – seeks her out for her expertise and opinions. Some of her achievements include contributing to a change in community bylaws through advocacy and challenging views on substance use, and establishing internal and external partnerships which were instrumental in expanding overdose prevention services. At every step of the way, she has ensured meaningful engagement of people who use substances in policy and programming engagement of people who use substances in policy and programming.
Erin’s efforts far exceed working hours and patient or client expectations. She engages in exemplary behaviour, such as volunteerism, good citizenship and even acts of heroism, being the voice for a population that tends to go unnoticed. She takes her free time to attend municipal and town hall meetings to advocate for individuals who are homeless or use substances, and goes beyond thinking what they need in terms of health care, considering how we can work to be inclusive of their voices and participation as valued community members and contributors in improving our health care system.
When a community organization, family member or person who uses substances is in need of support, Erin offers help at any available time, any day of the week. She is committed to caring outside of the confines of the health care system and providing care directly to those in greatest need. Harm reduction is a passion for Erin and her commitment to including patients’ voices with respect, compassion and openness in every aspect of her work is an inspiration.