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Embracing Peer Networks in Cultural Care for Addictions

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

By Lindsay Herman for SHRF

Rates of addictions and substance use disorder in Saskatchewan are a present and growing concern. Due to a long history of intergenerational trauma and systemic racism, the First Nations and Metis communities of Saskatchewan are particularly pressed by this epidemic. In addressing these and other health challenges that face Indigenous communities, Dr. Stuart Skinner and a group of clinical and community care providers, peer advocates and community organizations have recognized the importance of collaborative, culturally-appropriate and community-driven approaches to supporting public health.

Wellness Wheel Peer Mentor Shylo Stevenson at the Queen City Wellness Pharmacy in Regina Michael Bell Photography for SHRF, 2022

Wellness Wheel clinics were first launched in 2019 as a community-directed strategy for addressing these needs. Operating through existing healthcare centres in urban and rural Indigenous communities across Saskatchewan, Wellness Wheel clinics bring together local and visiting physicians, specialists, nurses and support staff who collaborate to identify community needs and provide appropriate and relevant care. Clinicians and care providers are supported by the Wellness Wheel Peer Support Workers - a group of individuals with lived experience who provide mentorship for both the design of Wellness Wheel programming and research, as well as support for the individuals these clinics serve.

While peer-based work plays an important role in the function of Wellness Wheel clinics and is well-evidenced as a supportive model for healthcare, there remains a gap in the literature pertaining to the measured impact of these strategies. In 2022, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation provided Dr. Skinner and the Wellness Wheel team with $49,580.00 in funding to better conceptualize the impact of their peer network model, and to utilize this framework to establish actionable plans for addressing addictions care in Saskatchewan. Dr. Skinner and the Wellness Wheel team are the recipients of a SHRF Excellence Award for this important work.

Dr. Stuart Skinner, Dr. Cara Spence, and the Wellness Wheel team in Regina Michael Bell Photography for SHRF, 2022

SHRF's Excellence Awards recognize the top-ranked applications from researchers and teams in the previous year's peer-reviewed funding competitions. Applications are scored through a rigorous peer-review process by committees of active researchers and health professionals. SHRF is proud to award Dr. Skinner and the Wellness Wheel team with an Excellence Award for the top-scored application from the pool of Innovation Grants within the Solutions Program. SHRF's Solutions Program addresses particular 'focus areas' relevant to Saskatchewan by funding the work of transdisciplinary/interdisciplinary teams and knowledge users as they coordinate diverse skills and perspectives. The Innovation Grant funds projects that work to identify and target creative solutions to complex problems.

Dr. Cara Spence, Michelle Dornan, Dr. Stuart Skinner and Trisha Campbell at the Wellness Wheel clinic in Regina. Michael Bell Photography for SHRF, 2022

The team's project, titled: "Cultural Care for Addictions: A Peer Network Based Approach" aims to:

  • Demonstrate the value and role of a formal peer mentorship program as integral to care for people with substance use disorder in Saskatchewan; and

  • Co-develop a culturally-responsive action plan for treating and preventing addiction in Saskatchewan.

This process first involves the connection with, and training and certification of, peer networks. These peer networks will consist of individuals who are living with or have experienced similar situations as the individuals they intend to support. Following their training, the project aims to incorporate these trained and certified peer support workers into Saskatchewan care settings, through Wellness Wheel clinics and community-support centres such as Prairie Harm Reduction and the Saskatoon Community Clinic. Dr. Skinner and his team recognize this approach as a pragmatic and culturally-appropriate method of supporting the complexities of addictions and substance use disorder.

Bonnie Quewzance poses with certificate of achievement following her participation in the Wellness Wheel peer network training. Michael Bell Photography for SHRF, 2022

As the project continues, peer support workers will participate in sharing circles, with the goal of sharing knowledge on addictions and substance use disorder, and developing solutions to support those living with them. These narratives will be used to co-develop an action plan that Dr. Skinner hopes will better address the addictions and overdose crises facing Saskatchewan today.

"Wellness Wheel clinics and their peer network structures represent a new and necessary approach to reconciliation in health and addictions care. SHRF is proud to have supported research intended to advance culturally-directed strategies in Saskatchewan." - Patrick Odnokon, CEO SHRF


To learn more about the recipients of SHRF's 2022-23 Santé Awards, click here.

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