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A Halifax nurse who devoted her life to helping thousands of members of marginalized communities has died.
Patti Melanson died at her home, surrounded by her husband Chris DeBow and daughters Mackenzie and Ella, on Saturday. She was 52.
“She made a big difference in a public way, but she also made a huge difference with individuals,” said Edie Lloyd, Melanson’s former colleague, in an interview on Monday.
“That number would be in to the hundreds of thousands of people that she met along the way.”
Lloyd was working in the teen clinic at the Cobequid Community Health Centre when she met Melanson, J.L. Ilsley High School’s nursing co-ordinator, through work in 1995.
“She did everything for those kids,” recalled Lloyd, a retired nurse. “Whatever they needed, Patti would do it for them.”
Students at the Halifax high school called the Joggins native by her first name, said Lloyd.
“The kids looked at her as a friend and trusted her, but she was able to get things done on a professional level,” said Melanson’s former colleague. “She knew her way around the block, looked after people and got stuff done.”
After working at J.L. Ilsley, Melanson went on to work as the nursing co-ordinator at Phoenix Youth Services, before she became the visionary behind Mobile Outreach Street Health — a health-care team that provides services to vulnerable Halifax communities, such as the homeless, substance-users and people wrapped up in the sex trade.
“She really saw people who other people don’t see,” Lisa Roberts, the New Democratic Party MLA for Halifax Needham, said of Melanson.
“What Patti led through the creation of MOSH was a response to the health-care needs of some of the most vulnerable people in Halifax, and she did it in the way that made the work easier for all different organizations,” said the MLA, who met Melanson in 2011.
The Nova Scotia advocate was a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia in November for her work. On that day, Melanson said she was in awe of the people her team serves because of their “ability to survive and to be resilient.”
“I was in the room when she won the Order of Nova Scotia and I thought that might feel really sad, because I knew that she wasn’t well and in fact she came from the hospital, but she was just glowing,” said Roberts.
Melanson had terminal cancer for the past three years, but that didn’t stop her efforts, said the MLA. The MOSH leader spoke at a meeting for a proposed safe injection site in the north end about a month and a half ago.
“She was still fully, mentally engaged with how to continue to respond and what the next thing is to make a difference,” said Roberts.
“Patti was dedicated to working with individuals who are not noticed in general and who aren’t organized to advocate for themselves,” said the MLA. “While the community will feel her loss, her impact is present every day and will continue.”
A service for Melanson will be held at Pier 21 in Kenneth Rowe Hall at 11 a.m. on Thursday.