For Women’s History Month, SafeLink Alberta sat down with our Board Chair, Dianne Dyer, to speak about her career and her impact on harm reduction in Alberta.
Dyer is a retired registered nurse with a 44-year career as a staff nurse and manager in emergency, trauma, public health, and addictions. Her interest in nursing was piqued by a nursing display at a high school career fair.
“It turned out I just loved being at the bedside. I loved being with the patients and nursing management as well. I loved nursing,” says Dyer. Her passion for nursing led her to become the President of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) from 2011 to 2013.
Dianne’s extensive career in harm reduction began as a nurse in various roles. For example, in 2017, she was approached to assist with a program to improve access to Naloxone Kits for the public.
“At the time, someone approached me to see how we could move quickly forward with public access to Naloxone kits. So, I joined that group and helped them move forward very quickly. We had to get moving. I mean, people were dying. We were in an opioid crisis with the number of deaths rising,” she said.
Dyer’s next assignment was to write the policies for the Supervised Consumption Services site at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre in Calgary. This work was also under a very tight timeline due to the opioid crisis.
In 2019, she was asked to renovate the harm reduction policy for Alberta Health Services. Part of this task was reworking the policy from a different perspective. Instead of an organization-level guidance policy, Dyer formed a small group of addiction experts and persons with lived experience with substance use to advise the work. The policy required a clear philosophy and messaging that emphasized respect and dignity, recognizing people’s struggles, and meeting people where they are at. The AHS Board was very supportive, with one board member noting “Kindness doesn’t cost anything.”
Dyer was then asked to lead work and write a government proposal to establish the Injectable Opioid Agonist Clinics (IOAT) in Calgary and Edmonton. These clinics treated patients with severe substance use disorders.
“We ended up with about 100 clients, most struggling with severe addiction related to opioids. The clinics were a huge success with multiple stories of lives saved and changed for the better.” Unfortunately, this treatment program was shuttered in 2020. Dyer was very concerned and believed that pushing the clients out the door without continued treatment and support was unsafe and could lead to harm and fatalities. A legal challenge by clients ensued later to ensure the clients in treatment could continue their treatment. Drawing on her experience, Dyer wrote an affidavit for the courts in support of the clients and iOAT following her retirement from AHS.
Dianne retired from AHS and nursing in June 2020 but remains connected to her community. She volunteers with different organizations, including the Kerby Center, the Mustard Seed and the Calgary Seniors Resource Society. At the Kerby Centre she delivers food to isolated seniors, she serves breakfast at the Mustard Seed, and uses her skills in watercolor with the Calgary Seniors Resource Society to paint cards for seniors for special occasions.
In 2021 Dyer joined the SafeLink Alberta Board of Directors and says she is immensely proud of SafeLink Alberta’s mission and vision.
“It absolutely hit me as harm reduction in bold letters. I wanted to continue to work in this area. I realized it was an incredible organization. When I read the Executive Directors reports, as a Board member, it’s almost breathtaking. You’d think the organization had 15,000 employees to complete the amount of work.”
In reflecting on Women’s History Month, Dyer said, “I am proud to be a woman and a leader in the world of SafeLink Alberta. Our history as women is so important, we need to recognize what women have accomplished. We need to celebrate however, we need to recognize that there’s so much more to do. Many things that we do as an organization are positive for women and recognize the value of women. There are so many women right here in Calgary that struggle every single day. How do we help them?”
SafeLink Alberta thanks Dianne Dyer for the dedication and expertise she brings to the Board of Directors and is proud to honour her this Women’s History Month. We also celebrate and honour other women in our community and impactful cis and transgender women in our community.
To learn more about our Board and Leadership, please visit the Who We Are Page