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As an Advocate for People Who Use Drugs, Seanna Uses the Harm Reduction Model to Educate Others

July 2, 2020

As harm reduction specialist at Evergreen Health, Seanna Pratt has learned a lot about educating the healthcare community about the drug user services we provide at Evergreen Health. Using both input from our community of patients who use drugs and the harm reduction model, Seanna educates and advocates. For those who don’t know, harm reduction is the philosophy of providing non-judgmental care, services and resources to people who use drugs, assisting them in their goals. Unlike many programs, it is not focused on abstinence. Patients are met with compassion and assisted in achieving their healthcare goals on their own terms. Seanna’s work within Evergreen also extends to several resource groups aimed at creating space and visibility for LGBTQ+ folks.

What is your role at Evergreen?

I am a harm reduction specialist and was brought on essentially to build capacity for drug user services both internally and in the community. I help raise awareness about what the philosophy is and how we can better provide services to people who use drugs that may not fall into more traditional systems of healthcare. I work on a lot of trainings and build our base of clients to maximize our impact.

Do you work directly with any people who use drugs?

I more office-located, but I help run our drug-user health coalition. It is made up entirely of people who have lived experience of drug use, whether they are currently using drugs or formerly. They’re really my lifeline to the community and I get so much information from them on what they’re seeing, what their needs are and what the community’s needs are. I also work closely with our peers to get information on what we can do to help.

Had you worked with people who used drugs before this?

I had not been working with people who use drugs. I got this job shortly after I graduated from my master’s program in Public Health at UB. I studied community health and health behavior. I knew after I got my degree that I really wanted to not just get a job, but get a job with an organization that valued community input and valued the people that really make Buffalo home. I saw that in Evergreen’s community messaging when they came to present at my school about the work that they do. It really just made sense with what I value and the work that Evergreen was already doing. I was really happy to get an offer to work in the harm reduction center.

Can you tell me what your patient experiences have been like?

What’s really moving is just the true connection and friendship and rapport we’ve built with our patients. People say that they’ve never had a healthcare experience like one at Evergreen. They’ve never felt valued or respected the way that they do at Evergreen. That makes me feel good to be a part of the positive experiences but it also constantly reminds me that this is not the universal experience for people who use drugs. There’s so much work to do and people that have a lived experience are really connected to that; they are the drivers of this change we’re trying to make.

What’s your favorite thing about working at Evergreen?

Oh my gosh. Well, I’m in a really unique position where I get to just meet people from all walks of life and get to know people from a non-clinical perspective, which is really unique role in healthcare these days. I would really like to see that grow because being in touch with the community is so important for improving health outcomes. I love working with people who use drugs and I love learning about peoples’ lives. I love hearing what people have to say.

Another huge part of working at Evergreen for me, as a queer-identifying person, seeing how involved Evergreen is with LGBTQ lives, because we have our affiliate the Pride Center. I think that attracted me to the organization and getting to be a part of these LGBTQ+ initiatives like adding pronouns to our email signatures has been really fulfilling, as it can improve the experience of being queer and working in healthcare. That’s pretty unique.

You mentioned being queer. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah. I am non-binary and queer. I’m part of the Proud Resource Group and the resource group that improves gender affirming processes in the workplace, like adding pronouns to email signatures for example. I’ve seen both of those groups really get together to do broader as well as more procedural implementations. I know that there’s a lot of talk of changes to how we onboard employees, can be more sensitive to people’s identities and make sure that people know they are welcome to share their identities with us as their employer, because there’s a lot of fear you could be terminated from employment or harassed because of your identity. Evergreen really wants to show that: one that’s not going to happen and two, not only are we going to respect your identity, but we’re going to celebrate it.

We know that Pride is not happening in its usual capacity. Do you have some ways you are planning on celebrating Pride?

Recently because of this uprising for justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve been really getting in touch with LGBTQ+ history, where the movement originated and the intersections between those two movements. I’ve been trying to support the current movement through a queer perspective and really learning about the pivotal black trans women who started the movement for gay liberation. Pride means a lot of things but I think right now to me the most important part of Pride is that intersection and the calling on us to support our friends and neighbors during this time.

What is a recent lesson you’ve learned?

What I’ve continually learned is that the work is never done. There’s always positive change to be made and we can’t sleep on the work just because it gets difficult or hard or we accomplish something. There’s always something else we need to do. Never check out. We always have to stay in tuned with whatever is going on.

When you’re not helping others, how do you spend your time?

Well, I’m a musician so I always secretly wanted to be a rock star. I do music on the side. It’s indie-pop type stuff. In Buffalo, I’ve been playing in different bands for two or three years. I just joined a new band recently so we’re writing material and hoping that after the pandemic we can get out there and play.
Otherwise, I like to just hang out. When the world is open, I like to spend time at coffee shops. I go to poetry readings. I try to get involved in the arts community locally and stay in tune with that. Catch local bands play. That stuff.

What are things you do for self-care? Obviously, this is a hard time for a lot of people.

Self-care is especially challenging because sometimes our self-care routines were things that existed outside of our home. But, I used to go to the gym and go to yoga a lot. Now I try to practice yoga at home and go on walks and hikes. I have a camping trip planned in a couple of weeks. I’m trying to really connect with that active part of my body.

Thank you, Seanna, for being part of the Evergreen family.