The popular Purple Door program at Diamond Jenness Secondary School is once again in full swing.
Part of a spectrum of services offered to students – including a career centre, homework club and all-day learning centre – the Purple Door is an access point for public health services, like immunization and help quitting smoking. As well, it offers sexual health services, like information on sexually-transmitted infections (STI) and pregnancy tests. The nurse even stocks everyday items like deodorant for students in need.
“By pulling the Purple Door services into the school and having it at student services, it makes it a multipurpose space that will help take away any of the stress or stigma related to going to see the nurse,” said vice-principal Lynne Beck. “The more we get students going into that area for help, the better. And it doesn’t matter what that help is, it’s just bringing the services to them.”
The program is in its fourth full year, with ongoing construction at the high school impeding last year’s activities.
Beck said the idea was around for a year before it could be implemented and was largely modelled after the Health Cafe in Fort Smith, a similar service that allows youth to access a health care professional on a less-than-formal basis.
Beck said that, although the reality in the North is often a transitory workforce, the program has seen incredible support from the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and a succession of their wonderful public health nurses.
Samantha Digness, a registered nurse with the authority and currently the staff member manning the Purple Door since it opened in late October, said she has a real passion for the work and is pleased with the changes she has seen even in so short a time.
“The two areas I see most are STI screening and sexual health concerns, and counselling and mental health,” Digness told The Hub. “When I started, the rates of STIs were high and testing was low, and now it’s the opposite. The rates have fallen dramatically and more youth are getting tested.”
From a public health perspective, Digness said she hopes the Purple Door will be a resource for youth to use for health concerns where they can feel their privacy is protected.
“They don’t have to feel like they have to go down to the clinic and make an appointment,” she said. “We can do it all right in the school and maintain that confidentiality. I’m there for two hours, three times a week, and it’s a safe place.”
Diamond Jenness principal Heather Pedjase said she wants to see student services expand even further and has – along with Beck – been working with the community counselling office to see if their services might be added to the mix.
“We’re trying to provide as many services as we can to the students without impinging on their education,” Pedjase said. “We want to figure out the best way for those outreach workers to work with our kids.”
According to Beck, the fact that the students are using the service is proof enough of its worth. But at the end of the day, she said the Purple Door is itself about learning.
“It’s an educational process in the end,” she said. “They’re going to get the information one way or another, and it’s about ensuring they’re getting the right and appropriate information from the start.”