The Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (VWHC) is a small oasis for the women on the Downtown Eastside, a place where they can seek solace, connect with other women and take care of their health.
Shelly is a recovered addict who has been on methadone for 20 years, who has suffered from a skin condition for 15 years called pyoderma gangrenosum, an autoimmune disorder that leaves gaping wounds all over her body.
Shelly never fully understood her condition, and found that doctors at other clinics couldn’t explain it to her in terms she understood. During a major flare up, Shelly sought out a VWHC nurse who taught her what she can do to delay another episode, giving Shelly the power to take charge of her own health.
An average of 42 women a day walk through the VHWC’s doors and thanks to their partnership with BC Women’s Hospital, the Collective is home to the sole women-only walk-in clinic in Vancouver. Many of the women seen by the nurse practitioners at the clinic struggle with barriers to healthcare, including trauma, addiction, multiple health issues and fear of judgement. A ten minute examination is just not enough time for these women, so the clinic takes a holistic approach to nursing, spending time with each women and linking them with appropriate resources that help them guide their own path to better health.
But the Collective is so much more than just a walk-in clinic. It’s a place where women can grab a cup of coffee, participate in a yoga class, use a computer and connect with resources, but most importantly, it’s a place where women can feel safe to open up about their needs and concerns.
“Just having the volunteers to lend a listening ear and then help the woman sift through her immediate needs and connect her to different resources makes a major difference,” said France Emmanuel, executive director of VWHC. “It’s all little things, but it enables them to find a better space for themselves where they can move to another stage in their life.”
The VWHC is an example of how good things can happen when organizations work together. Since 2011 the VWHC has operated at a significantly subsidized rent in Central City Foundation’s Cosmopolitan Hotel. CCF donors offer the Collective stability of tenure, which enables them to provide the services they do. The success of the clinic has been phenomenal, with more than 600 women coming in a year, and that number rises each year since VHWC opened its doors.
Central City Foundation donors invest in organizations that give women opportunities to access health care and empower them to make their own life decisions, which is why donors have supported the VWHC and BC Women’s Hospital initiatives for over a decade. Most recently, donors funded the renovation of a third examination room at the Collective, which was in desperate need of better sound insulation for privacy and better light so nurses could do proper examinations. The renovations allow the clinic to see more patients and host more nurses, and since the room opened, the clinic has seen the number of women coming in jump to an average of 49 per day.
“It was a small project, not necessarily something that would be easy to get funding for, and Central City Foundation showed the flexibility for that small project that makes a big difference,” said Emmanuel.
Shelly is now a volunteer at the VWHC one day a week, but because she loves the place so much, she shows up nearly every day, encouraging other women to come in and take a load off, even if it’s just for a coffee.
“It’s a safe place and that’s why you come here to begin with, but as time goes by that factor seems smaller and smaller, because you become emotionally attached to the place and the people,” said Shelly. “In my lifestyle, to have something that excites you, it really changes your outlook on your future.”