Meet Brent – an Unsung Hero making a difference on the Sunshine Coast
“Brent Fitszimmons treats everyone with an equal level of kindness – whether you’re a corporate executive or a person who is really down on their luck and living in a back alley. He will provide you with what it is that you need to reduce harm to yourself, and your community – this may be information, equipment, naloxone or safe shelter. It might be attending an appointment with you because you literally have no one else, or anyone else you know would be a liability to your credibility. He interfaces with health care, mental health, RCMP, pharmacy, municipality – all the while upholding the voice and experience of the patient. No amount of training produces this calibre of human. He is also incredibly humble.”
Over the past 12 years Brent has developed and implemented the local harm reduction program on the Sunshine Coast in his role as Needle Exchange & Harm Reduction Program Coordinator and Provider.
A ‘huge honour’
His hard work and dedication haven’t gone unnoticed. Brent is a recipient of an Award of Excellence as an Unsung Hero in this year’s People First Awards.
“It really is huge honour and I am really humbled by it,” says Brent. “You know, we are all working our buns off… the whole Public Health team, Mental Health and Addictions, our shelter staff from Rain City, our food banks and our Social Service… we are all just putting a smile on our faces and taking on as much as we can. So to be singled out as an Unsung Hero, I am humbled by the knowledge of how hard people are working. My first reaction was disbelief and a little bit of embarrassment that I didn’t deserve it.”
In his old but trusty Volvo, Brent can drive up to 100 kilometres a day or more to cover the needs of the community – from Gibsons to Sechelt and Pender Harbour. He provides education and training for the uptake of harm reduction philosophy and resources.
“He has single handedly championed take home naloxone over the past five years, and as the recent need for its access has increased exponentially he has risen to the challenge,” says Nurse Practitioner Annaliese Hasler, who also provided the opening quote. “Brent is a leader in the community advocating for upstream approach, providing regular meetings for community stakeholders to be informed and get involved,” said one of his colleagues.
Loving life on the Sunshine Coast
Brent’s job is very demanding but living on the Sunshine Coast, where he and his wife raised their four children, is reward in itself.
“When I first visited in the late ’90’s, strangers said hello and car drivers would make eye contact and wave. Added to that, there are beautiful mountains, private beaches, whales and dolphins swimming by, incredible musicians and my future wife,” says the self-described country boy. “At first I commuted to the Downtown Eastside where I was learning the lessons of harm reduction and receiving knowledge of addictions and the results of childhood trauma with the Portland Hotel Society. When this position became available, I could not believe my luck and good fortune. I have worked with such amazing people since starting this position, and am raising my incredible daughters in such a wonderful ribbon of communities.”
Community leans heavily on Brent
According to his colleagues, the community and many VCH staffers are grateful to have Brent.
“With a rising awareness and call to duty for overdose strategizing, the community has leaned heavily on Brent, as a local expert, to provide flexible, spontaneous support to whomever,” says Annaliese.
“Brent has graciously adjusted his schedule to provide impromptu training to local pharmacists, ER departments, Mental Health and Substance teams, paramedics, volunteer fire service, as well as one off individuals who drop in to the Public Health unit. Brent realizes that building capacity in community agencies has long-term return, and more importantly widens the immediate safety net for local community members at risk. This has increased workload substantially, at times wreaking havoc on his day today schedule, and forcing him to work beyond his physical limits in order to ensure access to his clients remains trustworthy,” she says.
To find out a bit more about Brent, read his People in Profile here.