Helping those in need
"Lay dispenser" may be an odd name, but it's an invaluable service

NNSL (Apr 23/99) - They have been called everything from "lady dispenser" to "nurse." They are actually "lay dispensers," but Lucy Simon would like to see that title change in the near future.

"Hopefully, they change our name because I really have to explain myself, what a lay dispenser is," said Simon, who is the region's longest-serving lay dispenser with 11 years experience in Jean Marie River. "I prefer community health worker."

Sheila Sears, manager of nursing services for Deh Cho Health and Social Services, said she doesn't know for sure where the name lay dispenser came from. It's used in countries overseas, she noted.

"I guess it was always someone who always had a pocket-full or a box-full of medications in their house and when people were sick they came to see them," she said.

Regardless of their name, these individuals provide a crucial service and are vital members of the DCHSS team, according to Sears.

Lay dispensers work in four Deh Cho communities -- Jean Marie River, Nahanni Butte, Trout Lake and Wrigley. There are usually two in each community and they tend to work two weeks on, two weeks off since they are on-call 24 hours per day, Sears said.

Simon said she never knows what to expect when someone pounds on her door or calls her in the middle of the night. It could range from a case of the flu to a stroke.

"I always will be there," she said. "The community's help is the most important thing."

Lay dispensers are paid employees, trained in first aid, CPR and health promotion. They assist with medical diagnosis and treatment in consultation with the nursing staff at Fort Simpson's health centre.

"They need assessment skills, how to listen to a chest so they can describe to the nurse in Fort Simpson what they are hearing; how to do vital signs like blood pressure and pulse and the meaning of that," said Sears. "They certainly can't take the place of a nurse or a doctor, but they can certainly provide good emergency care."

Lay dispensers also promote health at community events and by visiting families and schools. When visiting health staff come into the community, they are available to interpret and assist.

Simon took on the job after spending three years as her father's primary care-giver while he suffered through lung cancer, which ended his life.

"I think I owe it to my dad to do anything I can to be in a medical (profession)," she said.

She learns something new every day on the job, she said, and she has worked with numerous nurses over the past decade. Many of them still keep in touch with her.

"They always will remember the North. They always give me a call or send me a Christmas card," she said.

She added that the health centre has come to trust her judgment and so have local residents.

"I think I make a lot of difference in the community," she said.