Gisele Blair spent nearly half of her 41 years as a nurse reassuring callers to Health Links-Info Santé.
Blair, who retired three months ago, was among a gathering of current and former nurses who joined with representatives from the Misericordia Health Centre, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the provincial government Tuesday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Health Links-Info Santé.
Health Links-Info Santé is the free telephone-based triage service in which Manitobans can pick up the telephone and speak to a nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service can be accessed by calling 204-788-8200 in Winnipeg and 1-888-315-9257 toll-free. Translation is available in 110 languages.
Nurses for the service will do everything from calm and advise a new parent whose baby has its first fever, to assisting someone who has injured a limb or helping someone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts to find the help they need.
"Working at Health Links has been one of the most rewarding jobs as a nurse I've had," said Blair, who also worked in management and in the emergency room. "Those hands-on things were very rewarding as well. Here (at Health Links), you have to develop a relationship very quickly over the phone and be able to focus very quickly in terms of what needs to be done and meeting their needs."
Rosie Jacuzzi, the president and CEO of the Misericordia Health Centre, said Manitoba's Health Links-Info Santé service has assisted hundreds of thousands of Manitobans since it was launched in 1994 by putting them in touch with some of Manitoba's most experienced nurses.
"Having nurses available day and night by the phone makes a big difference to Manitobans. They can help you determine whether you can manage your condition at home... or whether you truly do need an emergency department or urgent care centre," said Jacuzzi, who has been with Misericordia for the past 13 years.
"I have to say how very proud I am of Misericordia's vision of creating Health Links-Info Santé service, especially after I've watched other provinces over the past 20 years implement the same service based on our successes."
Health Links-Info Santé began in 1994 as a call-back service with one nurse, Barbara Featherstone, working five hours per day. By 1996, when Blair joined the team, there were three nurses working in a 24-hour period and six to eight in total. Today, Health Links-Info Santé has 52 nurses on staff -- three nurses on the night shift, seven on the day shift and nine on the evening shift. There's openings for more, but only veteran nurses need apply.
"We need nurses. In the last eight months I've had seven retirements, so I've lost some fabulous nurses, and we're rebuilding right now around the fabulous nurses that are here," said Myles Duff, manager of clinical services for Health Links-Info Santé. "The nurses that work here typically have gone through their careers and they bring a lot of experience, and we need that level of assessment. We need that level of clinical expertise."
Talia Martens, an Health Links-Info Santé team leader, said the nurses "have the unique opportunity to be invited into somebody's home" through the phone conversations.
"It's not an easy job. We have to listen very carefully, because we don't have the ability to see what's going on. The patient is our eyes and ears, so the questions that we ask and the way we flush out that information requires a lot of experience and patience," Martens said.
Blair said some people have called back over the years with thanks or to relay how much it meant to them to have a nurse to talk to in their times of crisis.