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By Hazelle Palmer

Health care is such an intricate part of everything that we do and I’ve always noticed how health care institutions interact with different populations and different communities, genders, people of different orientation, racialized groups… But some of those interactions are so systemically driven and in many ways very oppressive. I want to see that health care reflects what I think we all deserve, which is health care that is responsive to our needs, and that every individual needs to be a partner in their own health care.

Sherbourne has built a unique space which allows folks to feel comfortable and safe when receiving care. Being able to relate to experiences is really important. We hire staff who have similar lived experience, to exemplify the importance of culturally competent care. We highlight our focus on anti-racism, anti-oppression as being something that we do with all staff upon their hiring here. Being able to live those principles in the work that we do and how we do the work is so important.

At Sherbourne, we have quite a range of programs that speak to these different experiences of (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer) LGBTQ communities and I think we’re starting now to do more around Indigenous and 2-Spirit communities, but I think that we have really tried to look at and create space for (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) BIPOC youth and for LGBT youth; and overall we’ve tried to address the issues of homelessness and substance use. We’ve looked at trying to create places where people can just meet because social connection is so important. We’ve created forums where we can listen and engage with folks to get a sense of how we can improve what we’re doing already.

We’ve also been an advocate. For example, through our province-wide Rainbow Health Ontario program, we underline the importance of Human Rights and the areas that we feel still are discriminatory or infringe on the rights of people from the LGBTQ communities… We are also training doctors across the province to be able to provide competent care. Access everywhere is important.

Looking to the future, Sherbourne is beginning to focus more on marginalized populations including BIPOC populations, and the intersections they face. We understand that people can be dealing with sexual orientation but also dealing with substance use, they may also be homeless, they may be a newcomer to Canada, they may be dealing with other forms of discrimination …  or trauma that deeply affects their ability to achieve health and wellness. We have staff teams who deal with under-housed folks and those experiencing homelessness, (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-2 spirit-queer) LGBT2SQ, as well as newcomers to Canada, but mental health and trauma were key areas that really stood out as impacting every community.

At Sherbourne, we acknowledge the significance of trauma and so with our new mental health framework we’ve embedded trauma-informed approaches. It’s really acknowledging that many of us in some way have experienced trauma. And while that trauma differs along a continuum, when we hear stories about people’s experiences with stigma, discrimination, substance use, or even the conditions that make them have to leave home early, or the abuse they’ve suffered in their life which may result in PTSD, it tells us that trauma is really a significant factor in people’s lives.

I strongly believe that we, all have our own resilience. And organizations like Sherbourne are there to empower, to help people to find that resilience in themselves. What’s challenging about intersectionality is that the burden of all the issues we deal with is so great, that it can feel so overwhelming. … Sometimes we think about some of the systemic things that we can’t control, whether it’s within politics, whether it’s the justice system, policing, all of the things that make it really so overwhelming and so discouraging but on the other hand I always am so admiring of −, I’m a queer person myself −, I’m admiring of our communities because we’ve gone through so much, and yet we continue on. And that’s true of people who are from BIPOC communities who are also dealing with issues around race and discrimination and stigma every single day and yet we march on. And we know from our history and social justice movements that we are stronger together.

Hazelle is a seasoned senior executive with more than 18 years experience in the non-profit sector.  Before becoming the CEO of Sherbourne Health, she was Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and previously Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Toronto. Hazelle holds a Master’s Certificate in Health Care Management as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Carleton University.

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