Comment: Health care means more than hospitals

The year 2018 was my first full year serving as Island Health’s board chair and included the appointment of our new president and CEO Kathy MacNeil. We are both drawn to Island Health’s vision of providing excellent health and care for everyone, everywhere, every time. The focus on “health and care” is critical.

The evidence is clear we have to think and act more holistically when we think about the health of our population, and how we support people in their community. Many people think of hospitals when they think of Island Health. However, the majority of our work happens in the communities we serve.

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Keeping people healthy and thriving at home is our aim. Community-based care includes long-term, home-support, public-health, and mental-health and addictions services.

As part of our vision, we are working to take pressure off hospitals. An important step in our direction was the November opening of Island Health’s first urgent-primary-care centre in the West Shore. As part of the Ministry of Health’s Primary Care Strategy, we are moving to a team-based approach to primary and community care.

Under that strategy, the provincial government will fund an additional 200 general practitioners, 200 nurse practitioners and 50 clinical pharmacists across B.C. As we refine our work at the West Shore Urgent Primary Care Centre, we will look for more opportunities to partner with health-care professionals including family physicians, the Ministry of Health and local governments to introduce centres in other communities.

Excellence in care for seniors was delivered through more direct-care hours. In March 2018, the province increased funding for long-term care and Island Health increased care-aide hours in many facilities across the Island. Also in support of seniors, we will begin construction on three new long-term-care facilities, with 80 publicly funded beds coming to the Cowichan Valley, 12 beds being added in Port Alberni and as many as 151 beds in the Comox Valley.

We are also adding about 7,400 new adult day-program spaces throughout our service area. Those geographically diverse day programs support seniors and adults living with cognitive and physical challenges. The additional spaces were made possible as part of the province’s $75-million investment over three years to expand respite care and adult day programs.

Reducing waits is a key component in providing excellence in health and care, and in alignment with the Ministry of Health’s provincial surgical strategy, Island Health opened its first Hip and Knee Centre at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in January 2018. Through a partnership with physicians, we are providing centralized intake and referral, pre-operative assessment, education and post-operative outpatient rehabilitation services.

We will achieve our target of 2,400 total hip and knee joint replacements, enabling people to get back to their lives sooner. It’s not only patients in Victoria who are benefiting from the surgical strategy. Across Island Health, leaders, nurses and physicians have created efficiencies to increase the number of total joint surgeries.

But more than hospitals, clinics, programs and services, at the heart of Island Health are its people and the people in the communities we serve.

Creating culturally safe and respectful environments for patients, clients, staff and medical staff is a key priority. We are committed to working alongside Indigenous people and partners to improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people across the region, who bear a disproportionate burden of illness.

The causes of these disparities are complex and include colonization, Indian hospitals, the residential-school system and the resulting trauma. We are committed to strengthen relationships and build trust through proactive employment programs, by welcoming the knowledge of traditional healers and by offering cultural-safety programs to all of our staff.

I would like to send a special thank you to the nearly 29,000 health-care professionals, physician partners and volunteers at Island Health. We care for people at the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

It’s a privilege we all take to heart with respect and compassion.

In 2019, we renew our commitment to excellent health and care. We ask you to join us in that responsibility. Add more exercise to your routine, find ways to increase your intake of vegetables and fruit, quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, make time to relax and enjoy your family and friends. Visit islandhealth.ca/healthy-living for some inspiration.

Happy New Year.

Leah Hollins chairs the board of Island Health.

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