CINHS Nurse Recipient of Advocacy Award

May 28, 2012

Award of Advocacy


Community Staff Nurse
Central Interior Native Health Society

Maria Brouwer is a tireless advocate for increasing Aboriginal women’s access to respectful and responsive primary care services. Her efforts, in collaboration with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (“the Ministry”), have led to a highly innovative and effective program called Breaking the Cycle, which provides complex case management for this population of women in Prince George and northern B.C.

Aboriginal women face unique challenges and greater risks to health from substance abuse, poverty, trauma and violence, a sad state of affairs recognized by health care agencies, the social service sector and the Ministry. Through her advocacy and work in nursing, Maria has shown a tremendous ability to listen to what are often heart-breaking stories of grief, loss and extreme physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Advocacy for this group is not carried out without controversy and Maria conducts her work with a high degree of professionalism, ethics and interpersonal skills. Breaking the Cycle was developed for women who are under surveillance by the Ministry during pregnancy and the post-partum period and involves structured case discussions between community nurses and the Ministry.

“Maria’s advocacy skills have supported women to retain custody of their children,” notes Professor Annette Browne. “As research has shown, this has major health benefits for women: their reliance on substance use decreases or ceases; they develop appropriate parenting skills; they access stable social housing which permits them to retain custody of their children; and their overall health improves, as does the health of their children.”

Maria’s passion for advocacy has other outlets, such as her successful lobbying as a board member of the Phoenix Transition House for the establishment of northern B.C.’s first safe-house for women during pregnancy. The house has been purchased and program planning is progressing. Additionally, Maria has delivered meals, taken patients to food banks, organized food hampers and found safe housing for many people, from emergency shelters to long-term rentals.

As a Primary Care Nurse, Maria is an exceptional resource for Central Interior Native Health Society (CINH) in Prince George. Naturally coinciding with her area of advocacy, she has specialized knowledge of mental health disorders, counseling and prenatal care. “We regularly refer patients to her for counseling as part of a treatment plan for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” says CINH Medical Director Dr. Patty Belda. “She engages with patients in acute psychosis, schizophrenia and other delusional disorders by building trusting relationships and seeing the individual rather than the just disease affecting them.”

Maria’s patients appreciate her compassion and knowledge. “I feel that my overall health has improved because Maria encouraged me to take care of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health,” says Jamie, a client of CINH. “She also talked about alternative ways of doing this, like looking at Native ways of looking at health. She helped me to empower myself.”

Thanks to Maria’s initiative and innovative approach,
health care in northern B.C. is more accessible to a very vulnerable population, leading to better outcomes overall for Aboriginal women.