New clinics taking place in Black communities in HRM will offer a safe space where African Nova Scotian women can receive free primary health care, including counselling for mental health issues.
The Nova Scotia Sisterhood had its first clinic on Monday at its location on Mumford Road in Halifax. Elizabeth Obeng Nkrumah, the program’s wellness navigator, said there will be more clinics in communities across HRM this month.
The Nova Scotia Sisterhood program was inspired by Nova Scotia Brotherhood, a similar free program for African Nova Scotian men that started in 2015. Nkrumah was the wellness navigator with the Brotherhood before moving into the same role at the Sisterhood in November 2022. The Nova Scotia Sisterhood was pioneered by the Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC), which received funding for the clinics.
“Based on the success of the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood came about,” Nkrumah said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. “Most of the men who did come through the Brotherhood would come with their partners, their mothers, and ask why we didn’t have something for them as well.”
Nkrumah said they saw three patients for that first clinic on Monday.
“It was good because it was the first time trying to figure out logistics and technical stuff,” she said about the turnout. “Three was just perfect.”
The January clinics will cover Halifax, Upper Hammonds Plains, East and North Preston. Nkrumah said they’d like to host clinics in Lucasville as well, and they’re also working on finding a location in Dartmouth.
Feeling represented in the health care system
Nkrumah said while the clinics offer primary health care services, they’re not replacing family doctors.
“If you don’t have a family doctor, we will see you and try to help you put yourself on the 811 list and hopefully get your affiliated with a doctor,” she said. “But we’re seeing everything that comes through for primary health care and do referrals to other providers.”
Nkrumah said these clinics are important because historically people of colour didn’t feel included or represented in the health care system.
The Sisterhood program staff includes a family doctor; a clinical therapist, who will be doing counselling around mental health and addictions; a community liaison, who works with other organizations in the community; a team lead; a manager; and Nkrumah as the wellness navigator. One important aspect of the Sisterhood program is that all of the staff are Black.
“The Brotherhood did come about because of that,” Nkrumah said. “They realized the men were not going to see [health care] providers for various reasons, be it racism, be it feeling they were not being treated fairly.”
Focus on mental health
Nkrumah said at the clinics, staff will discuss, among other health issues, heart health, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which are illnesses that African Nova Scotians are at higher risk for. Nkrumah said the mandate is to also help African Nova Scotian women with mental health issues.
“Mental health is one of the key things we’re helping women talk about and feel comfortable to see us about,” Nkrumah said.
Nkrumah cited a report by Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at the school of nursing at Dalhousie University, who wrote about the issues that African women faced around mental health, the stigma surrounding mental health, the fear, and not knowing who to speak with.
“Most of the women felt they had to be strong and they could talk to maybe a friend who wouldn’t be a professional or maybe they’d seek religious support,” Nkrumah said. “So, the article did look at women and their experiences tied to getting help for mental health issues. Basically we’re here to provide a safe space.”
“[We] give them a familiar person to talk to, knowing they are well represented in this situation, and we understand their traumas, we understand what they’re going through, and give them the time to talk and feel safe and comfortable.”
Nkrumah said long before the clinics even started they had lots of calls from women.
“We’re very excited to get things rolling and we know the turnout will be great,” Nkrumah said.
Women can make appointments over the phone at 902-943-1543 or by email at NSSisterhood@nshealth.ca. Nkrumah said they’d like to eventually offer clinics beyond HRM.
“The Brotherhood started with just two people and now look at us, so we’re hoping to expand,” Nkrumah said.