Healthy Living in the North

World AIDS Day

Portrait of woman wearing shirt that says: "If you care, be HIV aware"

If you care, be HIV aware. For more information about HIV/AIDS and safe sex practices, visit your local health unit or Opt Clinic.

Today is World AIDS Day. For the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day is a chance to get everyone involved in combating HIV/AIDS through the 90-90-90 strategy. The globally-recognized, made-in-B.C. 90-90-90 goals are:

  • 90% of those infected with HIV are aware of their status.
  • 90% of those diagnosed with HIV receive treatment.
  • 90% of those being treated have undetectable viral loads.

With routine HIV testing gaining momentum across northern B.C., we are on our way to achieving these goals.

World AIDS Day is also a time to think about prevention. Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including young people. If you are considering having sexual relations or are sexually active, which includes both oral sex and intercourse (vaginal and anal), World AIDS Day is a good reminder to have a “sex talk.”

Visit your local health unit if you have questions about sex or are considering having sexual intercourse. Youth who want to be tested for STIs can visit their family doctor or they can visit the local Opt clinic, which offers sexual health services including STI testing, birth control counselling, and low cost contraceptives and supplies.

In addition to combating HIV, Sandra Sasaki, education manager and positive prevention coordinator at Positive Living North, reminds everyone that they can also play a role in combating discrimination this World AIDS Day by participating in local events. Vigils and awareness walks are taking place across northern B.C. this week. Visit Positive Living North to find an event to show your support and to honour those living with HIV and those we have lost to AIDS.

In Prince George, this year’s vigil will be held December 1 at the Fire Pit Cultural Drop-In Centre (1120 Third Avenue) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and practising safe sex, visit the Northern Health HIV/AIDS information source,


Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.


A Healthier You (November 2014)

A Healthier You; magazine; youth

A Healthier You (November 2014)

Where does the time go?! We are already at our 12th edition of A Healthier You! Brought to you by Northern Health and Glacier Media, the magazine is produced four times a year. Articles are written by northerners for northerners and cover a broad range of topics.

Have you ever thought that today’s youth are unengaged or less healthy? Well, this issue proves you wrong! All around northern B.C., youth are engaged and taking on great tasks to make their communities healthier places to live. For example, check out Myles Matilla’s great work promoting youth mental wellness and We also highlight ways to get kids engaged in their personal health and wellness, including healthy meal preparation, physical activity, and more!

In addition to the Northern Health and Prince George Citizen staff, we want to thank the YMCA of Northern BC, First Nations Health Authority, and the Dr. REM Lee Hospital Foundation for their contributions to this edition.

Read the magazine today!

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants available

Sheila and Jane, partnering for healthier communities

Sheila Gordon-Payne, health service administrator for Prince Rupert, and Jane Boutette. They are happy to announce the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, available to support projects aimed at improving health and wellness of youth or seniors in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.What makes a healthy community? What’s my role in helping to create a healthy environment in the place where I live and work?

[July 31, 2014 editor’s note: The deadline for applications has been extended to October 15, 2014!]

What makes a healthy community? What’s my role in helping to create a healthy environment in the place where I live and work?

I first really thought about these questions while I was working at a local food bank during my summers off from nursing school. During my time there, I met people from all walks of life who were doing their best to get by in tough circumstances. On top of their financial troubles, many were also facing significant health challenges and I was eager to complete my studies and find a way to “really help.”

After graduating, I took a job in the Northwest Territories working as a rural acute care nurse and spent my days in the emergency department, mostly looking after people with preventable injuries and complications from chronic conditions. Many of the people I helped had similar challenges to the clients I worked with at the food bank: too little money, too much stress and limited resources to cope with it all.

After a particularly long shift, I decided to head out on my bike for some much needed exercise and I found myself reflecting back on my time at the food bank. I was struck with the thought that I still hadn’t found a way to “really help.” I was proud of the work that I was doing but the reality was starting to set in that as a nurse, I didn’t have the capacity to provide the kind of supports that my clients really needed in order to live healthier lives. In fact, the health care system on its own didn’t even have this capacity. Those simple realizations set me on the path to a career in public health and ultimately, to the work that I am now doing with the Healthy Communities Integration Committee in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.

“With rare exceptions, all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from working with others – or, in a word, partnership.” -Paul Farmer

Several years ago, Sheila Gordon-Payne, the Health Services Administrator for Prince Rupert (pictured here with me before another post-work bike ride!), approached me and some colleagues at Northern Health with the task of pulling together a group of community stakeholders to talk about the challenges that we face as a community and to begin some conversation about what we might do to start addressing them. We had representatives from Northern Health, the Transition House, First Nations Communities, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the RCMP, the City, the Senior’s Center, the School District and even the Salvation Army food bank! We called ourselves the Healthy Communities Integration Committee and came to the table as equal partners, each with a part to play in making our community a healthier place to be. We poured over community data and health status indicators for our areas and learned a lot about our local strengths and challenges. In the end, we chose two key focus areas to start our work: youth and seniors.

Today, we are very excited to announce the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, available through our Healthy Communities Integration Committee. These grants of up to $3000 are available to support grassroots, multi-sectoral approaches aimed at improving the health and wellness of youth and/or seniors in Prince Rupert and Port Edward.  We are looking for proposals that will support collaboration and partnerships and that will have the potential to make a positive impact on seniors and youth.

The deadline for applications is June 3, 2014.

For more information on the Partnering for Healthier Communities Grants, the application process, and opportunities in other northern B.C. communities, please email us at:

Jane Boutette

About Jane Boutette

Jane Boutette is a Public Health Nursing Program Manager for Northern Health. She provides front line clinical and administrative leadership for nurses working in Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. She has a BSc in nursing and a master’s of sience in public health research. Jane is passionate about public health and has a strong interest in community development. In her spare time she loves to be outside at the local ski hill, on the running trails or on a bike!


Children: keeping them safe from falls and injury-free

Kathy and grandson

Kathy spending time with her grandson.

Children – those active little beings designed to move, explore, interact with the environment, challenge our thinking and delight our senses. It’s a big responsibility keeping them safe from falls and injury-free.  This is especially true during the early years when their curiosity, coupled with their level of development, can put them in vulnerable situations that can lead to injury, at home, at the playground and at child care.

Reflecting back as a parent of three daughters, I wanted nothing more than to keep my girls safe from harm. This included: preparing our home, keeping curtain cords up high and out of reach, securing shelving units to walls, ensuring all hazardous products were inaccessible, and lowering the hot water temperature to 49 degrees Celsius. I thought I had it covered; my little home was safe. Then the unthinkable happened. My two-year-old daughter pulled out the drawers in the kitchen, used them as a ladder, scampered onto the counter and somehow tumbled off, resulting in a serious fall.

According to the Healthy Canadians website, every day two Canadian children die from unintentional injuries and another 80 require hospitalization. These are staggering statistics considering many injuries could have been avoided had better preventive steps been taken.

In my case, I was close by and a fall still happened. What had I missed?

Preventing falls involves a combination of safe environments along with active supervision. Active supervision, or the level of supervision that a child requires, will change depending on their age, physical health, social skills and risk-taking behaviors. In general, active supervision means being within sight and reach at all times, paying close attention and anticipating hazards when your child is playing or exploring.

As a Licensing Officer for Northern Health, monitoring licensed child care facilities, I see first-hand the importance of being proactive and thinking ahead when it comes to safety and preventing falls. Children attending child care programs need opportunities to be physically active, to practice new motor skills, to play freely and to explore. Falls prevention strategies are not meant to take away physical activity, but to create a safe environment in which physical activity can take place.  Active supervision is also important in child care settings. By watching closely, child care providers can offer support, while building on the children’s play experiences, promoting their overall development and ensuring that play is enjoyable. In childcare settings, supervision, together with thoughtful environment design and arrangement, can prevent or reduce the likelihood of accidents and the severity of injury to children.

As the years passed and my girls grew, our actions and focus on safety and falls prevention changed.  We no longer had safety covers on the electrical outlets, hazardous products had found their way back under the sink, fragile decorator accessories were everywhere and the girls were allowed freedom away from mom’s watchful eyes. Today, I now have four active, little grand boys visiting on a regular basis. I find myself thinking of that terrible moment when my daughter fell, my responsibility as a grandparent and the actions I can take to ensure a safe environment for them.

Injuries can be devastating; we were lucky.  My daughter recovered from her fall and it taught me a valuable lesson – I can take steps to prevent the ones I care for from being injured.

Visit our Falls Prevention page for more information.

Enter the Falls Across the Ages contest to win prizes!

Kathy Basaraba

About Kathy Basaraba

Kathy is a Licensing Officer with Public Health Protection out of the Prince George office. In her role as a licensing officer, she monitors and inspects licensed childcare facilities to ensure the health, safety and well-being of children in care. Although she has lived in northern communities for most of her adult life, she is still adjusting to the cold and snow. When not at work she can be found at home, spending quality time with her family and friends.


Youth falls: staying active and safe in the north

Families in Motion

Families in Motion teaches parents and children to play injury free.

When I was nine years old, my family went to Vancouver for a wedding. My three-year-old brother and I were playing in a house which was definitely not kid-friendly. We were upstairs and for some reason, my brother decided to go downstairs, but he tripped and went tumbling down. Everything happened so quickly; my childhood memories can recall every somersault motion as he rolled down the stairs. Being his big sister, I had this horrible feeling in my stomach because there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it at that point. Fortunately, he somehow came out of the incident unscathed and ended up at the bottom of the stairs without a scratch or a tear. We giggled about the incident after, but reflecting on it now, I realize how fortunate we are that he wasn’t seriously hurt. To this day, the thought of how my little brother could have been hurt still makes me shudder.

Families in Motion (FIM) is a program that tries to prevent incidents like the one my brother experienced and strives to provide a safe, injury-free environment. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the program with Cheryl Breitkreutz, North Peace Early Childhood Development Coordinator at FIM, and she told me how they help families like yours.

What does FIM offer?

Families in Motion is a partnership with not-for-profits to deliver a valuable opportunity for families to learn about the importance of gross motor activities and how to implement family fitness into their daily lives. We meet once a month at different locations around the community, free of charge, and offer a space where families can be active through interactive stations, obstacle courses, active games and soft play centres.

Why is it important for parents to check out FIM?

Providing a falls safe environment for children is an important preventive measure that minimizes risk of injury. As children explore their environment and try new skills, they don’t recognize hazards in their environment or other factors that may compromise their safety and well-being.  When setting up the physical layout we consider: age-appropriate design, adequate impact-absorbing surfaces around and beneath play structures, division of space into activity zones for different types of play, open sight lines and inspection/maintenance of equipment and play areas. Our volunteers teach and model equipment safety rules, and provide active supervision. In taking these precautions, families can focus on the experience of playing with their child and immerse themselves in the activity.

And how is it unique to northern BC?

Where for six months of the year the ground is covered by snow and the mercury drops far below zero, living in the north impacts the opportunity for children to engage in gross motor play. Families in Motion is a local initiative to get families moving, where parents lead by example and engage their children in being active as a family. Together they can experience physical activity in a safe environment out of the elements.

To learn more about this program, visit the Families in Motion website.

To enter Northern Health’s Falls Across the Ages contest, visit our contest page.

Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

About Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

Sabrina is the lead for healthy community development with local governments with Northern Health’s population health team. Sabrina was born and raised in Terrace and loves calling northern BC home. She has been with Northern Health since 2007 and is passionate about empowering, supporting and partnering with northern communities as we collaboratively work towards building healthier communities. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, playing and (sometimes obsessively) watching sports, hiking, camping, traveling and exploring the amazing north.


The riddle of youth falls

Girl plays soccer.

A young girl who is sure to get her fair share of bumps and bruises plays her first soccer game.

As safe as possible? Or as safe as necessary?

Sound like gibberish or a riddle? It’s neither. Let me explain…

If we were trying to make this world as safe as possible, so that our kids never fell building codes would include a ban on stairs, swings would be illegal, any play structure higher than ground level would be torn down and minor sports would cease to exist because all of these contribute our kids falling and getting hurt. Eventually, I’m pretty sure we’d refuse to let our kids leave the house unless they were bubble wrapped, wearing a permanently affixed helmet and armed with two tracking devices (in case the battery on the first dies).

But, that’s not all feasible, is it? So, when we discuss keeping our kids as safe as necessary, we’re talking about putting a helmet on them when they go bike riding or snowboarding so that they can grow up able to feed themselves, talk with their friends, choose a career and go biking or snowboarding again.

Being as safe as necessary means knowing how to prevent concussions and knowing the signs, symptoms and proper treatment, so that you aren’t putting your hockey star kid back in the game without realizing that his or her growing brain has been injured. It means knowing that while a child is healing from a head injury, the chances of another concussion are even greater and the risk of life-long damage is higher.

As safe as necessary means realizing that teaching our 10-year-olds how to head the ball in soccer might conflict with our wish to watch them grow into emotionally, socially, and intellectually healthy young adults. And that they don’t have to head the ball to have fun with their friends, play a great game, score some awesome goals and be strong and active.

There are many cases where ignorance is not bliss, and this is one of them. No parent that I know would ever knowingly sign their child up for a limp, a disfigurement, a wheelchair, loss of independence, social isolation, depression, failed relationships, unemployment, etc. But by not being aware of the risk of a real, serious injury and taking steps to prevent it, isn’t that exactly the risk they are taking?

To learn how to ‘get in the game,’ visit

Lynette Hewitt

About Lynette Hewitt

Lynette Hewitt works in Fort St. John as an Injury Prevention Coordinator for Northern Health. After receiving a BScN from UNBC, Lynette traveled a bit, then returned to her hometown of Fort St. John where she worked in med/surg, public health nursing, and home nursing care before settling into her current role. When not at work, she is trying to keep up with life as a busy wife and mom, which may or may not include time for snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, geocaching and, for a few short months, gardening!


A well-deserved award for one of our own

Andrew Burton and Dick Harris

Andrew Burton (left) with MP Dick Harris, receiving his medal at the awards ceremony. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

A member of the Northern Health team has achieved a great honour!

Andrew Burton has received well-deserved recognition this week as a recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris, as appointed by the Queen through the Governor General of Canada, presented Andrew with the award on Wednesday August 8 for his “service to the community,” said Harris.

The award honours Canadians with significant achievements, and thirty of them have been given to residents of northern B.C. In addition to the specially designed medal, recipients of the award received a letter of commendation from the Governor General, on behalf of the Queen, an official certificate and lapel pin.

Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team, where he develops programs to help people quit smoking and lead healthier lifestyles. He was anonymously nominated and received this award for his volunteer work with the Street Spirits Theatre Company, a Prince George-based youth program that aims to bring awareness to big societal problems through workshops, stage performances, and community interaction.

I talked to Andrew about his work with the theatre program and what winning this award means to him.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

What is this award for?

This is an award primarily focused on my work with theatre. The award is here, in Prince George, and that means a lot to me, because I started the theatre program about 13 years ago, we travel a lot and teach workshops all over North America, and we still run into a lot of people in Prince George who have no idea who we are. This local recognition is really nice for us.

What is the theatre program?

The program I started is called Street Spirits Theatre Company. We work with young people from the Prince George area, who are all volunteers, and create stage performances about real problems in the world – HIV/AIDS, homelessness, bullying, sexual assault, family violence, drug use, poverty, eating disorders, racism, poverty in third world countries, and many others. We also teach workshops, called Theatre is Research, which involves going into a community and talking to people about what they think are issues in their community and then creating a performance about it. We give the community an opportunity to recognize the problem and generate grassroots solutions for it, and then we do a stage show about it. We also do social action theatre, called forum theatre, where members of the audience can get involved by entering the play and try to change it. We do about 25 shows a year, and two or three major workshops a year, and we have had people come from as far away as Australia to come train with us.

Why did you start this program?

We started the program to provide an opportunity for involvement for youth at the Youth Around Prince Resource Centre. Initial support came from the Future Cents program, Youth Around Prince, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Prince George Native Friendship Centre and Prince George Alcohol and Drug Services. We asked the youth coming in to the centre what they wanted and several said they would like to learn acting skills. To meet that need, and to provide a service to the community, we started Street Spirits. I took the lead because I have background in theatre and training in therapeutic theatre practice.  It is important to the youth to not only take part in acting but to do so in a way that benefits the community. The work involves young people in activities that develop self esteem, life skills social responsibility and personal ethics. It also raises awareness and responsibility in the audiences who we perform for.

How do youth get involved?

We currently have 15 active members, but membership is usually lower in summer. We like to keep around 15-20 involved but we don’t turn people away. It’s all free of charge, supported by donations and we occasionally get grants, including from Northern Health.

Youth from our audiences will come up to us and want to be involved, some kids bring their friends and we do get referrals from social service agencies.

We meet at YAP Friends (Youth Around Prince) across from City Hall every Thursday at 6pm. Anyone is welcome to come and get involved. And this October, we’re doing a presentation at an international festival in New York City called Performing the World. Travel will be arranged through fundraising efforts with the members.

What does this award mean to you?

The award is coming to me for this work, but this work exists because of probably over 200 young people who have volunteered over the last 14 years, 25 adults who have volunteered to help facilitate and run the program, and because of the support for the Youth Around Prince resource centre, Ministry of Children and Families and the local businesses and organizations that have given us support over the years.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.