Jessica Bridgeman, Harm Reduction Coordinator
She came in like a wrecking ball…in the most respectful, compassionate, culturally competent, ethical way possible! Prior to her employment in Interior Health just over a year ago, Jessica was the street nurse with one of the harm reduction agencies contracted to deliver client based services. During this time Jessica tirelessly advocated for new and innovative ways to deliver services and is currently involved in evaluating one of her earlier projects – safer foil inhalation for persons who smoke drugs.
From the beginning Jessica has been dedicated and committed to her role as harm reduction coordinator. One of the key barriers in the early days of the Public Health Overdose Emergency was the lack of access to Take Home Naloxone kits in the community and the inability of harm reduction contracted agencies to be able to dispense kits to clients due to system barriers. Jessica very quickly identified this gap, engaged with key internal and external partners on how to remove these barriers, and once removed, developed the educational and training resources required to roll out the Community Overdose Prevention Program. At the same time Jessica worked in partnership with epidemiologists and Mental Health Substance Use programs to develop a surveillance process for external partners to report overdoses that occur in a community setting and to increase communication between organizations.
Interior Health (IH) has responded to the Public Health Overdose Emergency by implementing various strategies. Jessica has been instrumental in providing leadership and insight to the IH Overdose Response Team Section Leads who are working towards developing and implementing Safer Consumption Services (SCS) and Overdose Prevention Sites (ODPS). Jessica has been working in collaboration and partnership with educators and the Professional Practice Office to develop and implement educational resource materials to support staff in IH as health professional regulations are amended to increase the capacity of staff to distribute and administer naloxone in acute and community settings.
Through all of this, Jessica has never lost sight of who the most important people are in the overdose response strategy – the people who use drugs and their families. She tirelessly advocates for the inclusion of peers in all new and ongoing harm reduction strategies and does not hesitate to identify and address situations where peers are being discriminated and stigmatized against and seeks to find shared solutions to reduce these impacts. Jessica has been co-facilitating the Compassion, Inclusion, and Engagement project in IH with First Nations Health Authority and BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) to bring healthcare workers and peers together to begin to break down barriers, provide safe spaces, and increase dialogue between both groups.
Jessica is a true hero that inspires others to join the battle against addiction. Her dedication, courage, kindness and compassion towards those she serves is remarkable. Recently, Jessica was late for an opioid overdose response strategy and planning meeting and apologized stating that she has just been in the back alley with a colleague administering Naloxone to an unresponsive individual. So she saves a life and gets right back to the priority work!
With a background in acute psychiatry, emergency mental health, and community addictions, Jessica is a passionate advocate for harm reduction and has worked tirelessly to save lives by expanding availability of naloxone to those most at-risk of an overdose. In 2016, Jessica’s work ensured that over 4,000 Take Home Naloxone (THN) kits were distributed to people who most need them in communities within the Interior Health region. She has become an essential component to the provincial overdose emergency response in Interior Health. Jessica helps to create policy that saves lives and reduces poor health outcomes without discrimination, barriers or bias. Jessica is a champion for identifying and responding to health inequities.
Through sheer determination, Jessica has been the key force in changing organizational norms and increasing awareness, decreasing stigma and saving lives.
Dr. Silvina Mema
As Jessica’s current director there is rarely a day or week that goes by that someone or some group is not requesting Jessica’s time and expertise to inform their work. I have received numerous emails from internal and external partners that have expressed their thoughts in regards to Jessica’s professional and ethical and culturally competent way of being and how much impact that thoughtful approach has enhanced their own work environment and interactions with their clients. Even though Jessica was originally in a full time temporary position it became very evident that Jessica was someone who IH and their clients/peers could not afford to lose to another organization due to the positive influence she was having across all portfolios and levels and I am happy to report that Jessica will be remaining with IH in a permanent position
Lorena Hiscoe, Corporate Director Clinical Operations, Population Health