Even when the way forward is clear, it takes a true leader to make positive change happen. Coming from an extensive clinical background in perinatal and public health nursing, Elizabeth Poag has successfully advocated to help some of the most vulnerable patients in BC’s provincial capital: pregnant women dealing with addictions, violence and other complex challenges. Thanks to Elizabeth’s hard work, a community-based program in Victoria is helping these people to get the care they need – and hopefully even inspiring similarly ambitious projects beyond Island Health.
Elizabeth is a Public Health Nurse with Child, Youth and Family Community Health. There, she provides prenatal, postnatal and parenting support and education to vulnerable populations alongside community service providers. She provides immunization services, supports health prevention activities, gives dedicated follow-up and referral support and takes care of countless other duties in this busy role. That said, she may be best known for the HerWay Home initiative that was launched in 2014, thanks to her tireless leadership in coordination with over 30 community agencies in Victoria.
“There had been modest attempts to launch this kind of program in Victoria for many years, but it took the arrival of Betty to bring community partners together and attract significant funding, in particular from the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island,” says University of Victoria School of Nursing Assistant Professor Dr. Lenora Marcellus. “Betty had to navigate many tensions around organizational cutbacks, ‘turf ’ battles and historical political relationships. She did this with skill, respect and persistence.”
Betty is always looking for ways to improve health services for women and families, as well as in general nursing practice. For instance, she has been active in a virtual community of researchers, practitioners, health system planners and birth mothers in the Network Action Team on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Prevention. “Betty has ben a keen participant, contributing to monthly online discussions, presentations, grant applications and more,” notes colleague Nancy Poole. “She asks questions, sees connections among trauma, substance use, mental health concerns and harm reduction approaches and invites collective action on issues.”
Another initiative helping vulnerable mothers is the Best Babies program, where Betty has facilitated a weekly program offering perinatal and nutritional education for women who need advanced services. Once again, she was able to connect community agencies to meet a challenge that would have otherwise overwhelmed a program with a smaller scope.
Betty is a great connector, able to bring together local researchers, health authority leaders and others to discuss emerging issues. She is a mentor for nursing students and new public health nurses. She also assists researches across Canada with studies of FAS, substance abuse, sex trade workers and other topics. Throughout all these interactions, Betty is a role model, showing compassion, kindness, persistence and activism. “She brings people together in inclusive ways, with humility and respect in all of her relationships,” Poole says.
An exceptional nurse who is passionate about caring for her community, Betty continues to change lives and leaves a compassionate legacy for future generations.