Volunteer Physiotherapist Joins Health Team

“I had just come back from a physiotherapy conference where the main speaker spoke about the opioid crisis and how physios should be at the forefront of this fight. It felt like it was so important… that there was a practice like physiotherapy to treat pain and try to help these patients in a way that didn’t require drugs,” says Beth Bates.

But in the current system, access to physiotherapy is, “typically more for people that have jobs and extended health benefits and have a higher income to help pay for those things,” says Beth, who owns a private practice (Lab Health in Vic West) with six practitioners.

So when she returned from the physiotherapy conference she began to research where she could work in cooperation with other healthcare professionals to help people on low incomes. Her search led her to Cool Aid’s Access Health Centre on Johnson Street where she met with program director Grey Showler.

Beth didn’t need to convince Grey of the value a volunteer physiotherapist could add value to the large caseload of the Health Centre and its 50 medical professionals. “But who will volunteer their valuable time?” he asked.

“That’s why I’m here,” she explained. “My profession is altruistic and I believe everyone should do volunteer community service.”

Beth has now been volunteering twice a month for a year and a half. “Everybody has been very welcoming and pleasant, easy to interact with, and super accommodating and flexible. The medical staff are definitely open to helping you understand the different needs and demands of this population.”

“The doctors here also value my opinion and expertise, which I so appreciate, and they will do things like a ‘corridor consultation’ with me. So we’ll stand in the hallway and talk about something, or interact with a patient on the way out. I will assess the patient with a doctor and we’ll come up with a good plan of how they can sleep well at night, even if they are sleeping in a tent.”

“Because I have a full half hour with each patient, they feel so heard by getting to tell their story… and after that experience, they want to hug me… There are also patients that I have treated that are coming off pain medications because they don’t need them any longer.”

“When you don’t have secure housing, and you don’t have a secure food source, and you are potentially self-medicating… and you find the time to do something that I’ve said, that’s huge. I made an impact for someone.”

“I also helped Grey write a grant last summer to apply for public funding for a physiotherapy position… and we got that funding! So hopefully we will soon have a physio here one day a week,” she concludes.

“We are so lucky and thankful to have Beth volunteering,” says Grey. “I hope she stays forever!”