Nova Scotia

Cape Breton's Ally Centre opens new health clinic

The Ally Centre of Cape Breton, which provides anonymous testing for blood-borne diseases and operates a clean needle exchange, will launch a medical clinic this week, says executive director.

In the beginning, the clinic will operate for three hours on Thursdays

The Ally Centre of Cape Breton will open a medical clinic in its premises on Bentinck Street in Sydney. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

The Ally Centre of Cape Breton will launch a medical clinic this week, said executive director, Christine Porter.

The centre provides anonymous testing for blood-borne diseases and operates a clean needle exchange. Its clients include members of the LGBTQ community, intravenous drug users, homeless people, sex trade workers, people with mental illnesses and others in what Porter calls "vulnerable populations".

Porter said many of those people are not comfortable seeking medical attention from mainstream practitioners.

"It's been explained to us on many, many occasions, 'I don't feel right when I go to outpatients. I'm being stigmatised. I've been called a junkie,'" she said. "Those types of barriers — we've actually done a three-year research project to gather evidence to support that they are facing barriers, that they are not accessing health care."

Porter said because of that, problems that start out small can escalate to the point where hospitalisation becomes necessary.

The chair of the board of the Ally Centre, Janet Bickerton, said opening a medical clinic has long been a dream, due in no small part to the fact that many doctors won't treat people with an active drug addiction.

Young doctor

Then, a young woman about to graduate from medical school saw a short documentary called Faces of Addiction, produced by Pastor Dave Sawlor of Undercurrents in Glace Bay. Bickerton said it was a turning point.

"At that end of the short film, Dave leads people in a discussion about what's happening and he challenges people to think about what they can do, individually, to try and turn the tide," she said. "And Dr. Megan Keating said, 'Well, yeah, there's something I can do. I can provide health services.' She came to us, so it was like, wow!"

Bickerton said in the beginning, the clinic will operate for three hours on Thursdays.

"It would be anything that someone would go to a family doctor for," she said. "So whether they need some screening, whether they have an injury or an infection, Pap smear, sexually-transmitted infection screening."

"We're also going to be able to partner with the VON because they currently provide services for us. They'll also be able to collect blood specimens right there, so the person doesn't have to go to the hospital and go through that whole experience."

The clinic will be open for the first time on Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Ally Centre on Bentinck Streetin Sydney.

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