Why She’s Top 40: She brings health and dignity to the most vulnerable.
Before Essi Salokangas started pharmacy school at the University of Alberta, she got a summer job as a receptionist at Boyle McCauley Health Centre, not knowing the impact it would have on her career. It’s a clinic for patients who don’t have ID, are homeless or have other social-inequity issues, and she quickly became involved with the inner-city population. Then, when she began working at Mint Health during pharmacy school, she realized more needed to be done for vulnerable populations. “Working there, we saw this sub group of patients who, even though it was a low-barrier service, they still couldn’t access it,” she says. “The solution is outreach – go to them with info and services.”
By the time she graduated in 2016, she was working alongside fellow Top 40 recipient Klaudia Zabrzenski for Mint Health and Drugs Community Members Pharmacy, where they created the Adherence and Community Engagement (ACE) team, which provides life-saving medical help for HIV/AIDs patients across the Capital Region. Two years later, the team has four members and covers over 100 kilometres per day, ensuring clients stay healthy and the disease stays relatively contained.
The team does more than administer meds. It gets to know its clients personally and assesses other factors that influence their health, in order to help them find all the assistance they need. “We look at the patient as a whole, not just as their disease or condition,” she says.
Working with the Edmonton Food Bank, Homeward Trust and social workers across the city, ACE has developed a network of resources to help clients not only feel healthy, but empowered. “When you’re worried about where you’re going to sleep next, making your medical appointments is not that important, and people underestimate how challenging the health care system can be,” Salokangas says. “We provide approachable, low-barrier health care, so our clients don’t feel stupid asking questions.”