Healthy Living in the North

National Pain Awareness Week: Living with pain

National Pain Awareness Week graphic, depicting five graphic people, four in white, and one in orange, with the title: One in five Canadians lives with pain.We have all felt pain in our life, whether a stubbed toe, a paper cut, or some other minor injury. For most of us, pain is an infrequent and short term problem – something that we deal with and then get on with our day. However, for one in five Canadians, pain isn’t fleeting. It’s a constant and often excruciating companion.

For the last 15 years, the first week of November has been National Pain Awareness Week in Canada, a time to raise awareness of and support for people living with chronic pain. When you pause for a moment and consider the facts, I think you’ll see why that’s important:

  • Chronic pain is the most frequent cause of suffering and disability.
  • Pain is the number one reason people access health care, accounting for about half of all physician visits.
  • People living with chronic pain are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • One in five Canadians live with chronic pain.
  • About 60,000 adults within the North experience chronic pain.
  • Approximately 1,400 Northern Health employees are estimated to experience chronic pain.

Chronic pain differs from acute pain in several ways. We all experience acute pain and can usually identify a trigger for the pain — such as an injury — and it usually goes away fairly quickly. The pain of a sprained ankle from stumbling on the stairs, a backache after lifting something heavy, or a painful incision after a surgery are all examples of acute pain.

Chronic pain is more subjective and can be a sensory and/or emotional experience. It’s not always possible to find a connection between an injury or illness and the pain being experienced, and even when it is, the pain is often much greater than we may expect. Chronic pain lasts for more than three months, and may come and go, or it may be constant. Spine disease, headache disorders, fibromyalgia, and arthritis are just a few of the conditions commonly associated with chronic pain.

Sometimes there is no apparent underlying cause – no prior injury and no apparent tissue damage. However, for the one in five Canadians living with chronic pain, their lives are significantly impacted.

In our province, Pain BC has developed numerous resources and self-management tools to support both individuals with chronic pain and their family members. If you or someone you care about is living with chronic pain, you may find the following resources helpful:

Ashley Stoppler

About Ashley Stoppler

Born and raised in Prince George, Ashley is a two-time UNBC graduate. She has worked for Northern Health since 2004 and has held nine positions across the spectrum of health care, ranging from Maternity to Long Term Care, and many areas in between. She’s recently moved into a strategic position with the Regional Chronic Diseases Program, focusing on HIV, Hepatitis C, Chronic Pain and Arthritis. Ashley is active in her community, sitting on the board on the YMCA of Northern BC and teaching yoga in her “spare time.” She also likes to channel her inner Martha Stewart at the sewing machine and in the kitchen, but what brings her the most joy in life is the time she gets to spend adventuring with her fiancé, infant son, and toddler dog.


Get ready for plain packaging in Canada

Two cigarette boxes in the new plain packaging.

Plain packaging comes into effect in Canada on November 9, 2019. (Photo credit: Canadian Cancer Society)

Here’s a fact you might already know: Commercial tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Canada and has negative health effects for all ages.

Here’s a fact you might not know: Across Canada, tobacco product packages will be stripped of all bright colours and logos, and will now be a plain brown default colour.

Plain packaging starts November 9 in Canada

Health Canada regulations for plain packaging take effect on November 9, 2019. At the manufacturer’s level, retailers will have a 90-day grace window to sell off their remaining coloured inventory. As of February 7, 2020, we will no longer see colour or design that have long been used to lure new users and create brand loyalty in the tobacco world.

What it will look like

All tobacco packaging will feature the same brown base colour, basic grey text, and minimalist layout under the new requirements. The size and appearance of cigarettes, cigars, and other products inside the packages will also be standardized.

This regulation is limiting the tobacco industry’s ability to advertise and market their products through attractive packaging. Research has shown that plain and standardized tobacco packaging reduces the appeal of tobacco products, particularly among youth. For example: the colour green in the tobacco world has traditionally been linked to menthol products, or so-called “slim” products, for female consumers. Slims and superslims, which critics say falsely promotes a less harmful tobacco product, will be banned by February 7, 2020, at the retailer level.

Packaging boxes will change too

In November 2021, the use of a cigarette box format known as “slide and shell” will be mandatory, though there will be a transition period for implementation. This is to enhance the size and impact of health warnings printed on the packaging. Further timelines are set for cigars and other tobacco products.

Plain packaging around the world

These requirements follow the lead of countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, which have their own packaging rules and were at the forefront of tobacco packaging change. There has been resistance to plain packaging from tobacco companies, who suggest that plain packaging doesn’t work and that it may boost the illicit sale of tobacco products. At least 16 other countries have adopted similar measures and Canada will have one of the best tobacco plain packaging regulations in the world, setting multiple world precedents.

There are 29 countries and territories moving forward with plain packaging, with 16 having adopted or working on the measure.

For more information on plain packaging

Visit Health Canada: Plain and Standardized Appearance for Tobacco Packaging and Products.

Interested in quitting?

There are many reasons why one should quit smoking. It is always a good time to quit. Quitting smoking can be difficult. Replacing cigarettes with other tobacco products can still negatively affect your health. If you or someone you know is interested in quitting or decreasing their tobacco use, encourage them to talk to their primary care provider (such as a doctor or nurse practitioner).

The following tobacco cessation resources are also available:

  • QuitNow offers free information, support, and counseling by trained professionals by phone, text, or email.
  • BC Smoking Cessation Program: Everyone in BC can access 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy (gum, patch, inhaler and lozenges) per calendar year through their local pharmacy. Women who are pregnant or lactating are advised to consult with their doctor or pharmacist.
  • First Nations Health Authority benefits program offers supplementary coverage for nicotine replacement therapy.

Note: In this post, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco.

Lindsay Willoner

About Lindsay Willoner

Originally from Ontario, Lindsay started her nursing career with Northern Health in 2006 as a public health nurse. Since then, Lindsay has branched out in a variety of leadership roles both within and outside NH, including as a public health resource nurse, working with Options for Sexual Health, community influenza contracts, BCNU stewardship, and working at the local long-term care facility. Lindsay currently works as Regional Nursing Lead for Tobacco Reduction based out of the Terrace Health Unit.


Don’t let the flu get to you!

A graphic stating, "Don't let the flu get to you! Find a flu clinic near you at"“In Canada, vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention in the past 50 years.” — ImmunizeBC

Northern Health’s Regional Nursing Lead, Immunization, Pat S., says one of the best ways you can stay healthy and protected from vaccine-preventable diseases is to get immunized.

Pat says when people are immunized, they not only protect themselves, they also protect those around them.

“There are people in our communities who can’t get immunized, such as babies who may be too young to get vaccines, people with poor immune systems, and people with certain medical reasons such as those undergoing cancer treatment,” says Pat. “By staying current with your vaccinations, you can help protect those people in your communities. The more people who are immunized, the better, because then it’s more difficult for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread.”

What is influenza?

Influenza, also called “the flu” is an infection of the upper airway caused by the influenza virus; it can be spread by coughing, sneezing, or face-to-face contact. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness, and cough. Children may also have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

It’s important to get a flu shot to protect yourself; it can be a serious and sometimes fatal infection.

Where can I get a flu shot?

Across Northern Health, seasonal influenza vaccines are available starting November 4 at Northern Health’s Public Health Units, for people eligible for publicly-funded flu shots. The vaccine is recommended for and provided free to the following groups:

  • People at high risk:
  • Seniors (65+)
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • People who are morbidly obese
  • Pregnant women
  • People with certain chronic diseases
  • People who could infect those at high risk
  • People who provide essential community services

Pat adds that in BC, flu shots are also provided at pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and travel clinics. To find a flu clinic near you, visit ImmunizeBC – Find an Influenza (Flu) Clinic.

Visit Northern Health FluImmunizeBC or HealthLink BC for more detailed information on:

  • The flu
  • Flu vaccine eligibility
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine eligibility (Pneumovax®23)

In addition, Pat encourages anyone looking for information about shingles or the shingles vaccine – which is not provided free in BC – to talk to their local care provider.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications consultant for Northern Health. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes.


Canadian Patient Safety Week 2019: Speak out and conquer silence

Canadian Patient Safety Week takes place October 28 to November 1. This annual campaign encourages all Canadians to become involved in making patient safety a priority. The theme for Canadian Patient Safety Week (supported through the national organization Canadian Patient Safety Institute) is Conquer Silence and is raising the awareness of how silence of patients and providers in the system contributes to people dying.

“What most Canadians don’t realize, is that 28,000 of us die from preventable harm when receiving care, every single year. This makes patient safety incidents the third leading cause of death in Canada, behind cancer and heart disease. One in three Canadians has had patient harm affect themselves or a loved one, yet the public is collectively unaware that the problem exists. This is a silent epidemic. If we do nothing, 1.2 million Canadians will die from preventable patient harm in the next 30 years.” (Canadian Patient Safety Institute website.)

I recently spoke with Sally Rosevear, a patient partner with Northern Health, who has shared her story and her commitment to patient safety to encourage others to speak up and get involved.

A woman outside holding a toddler boy in a bear toque.

Sally and her grandson.

Sally’s story

My renewed interest in the delivery of healthcare began in 2014 during my husband’s hospitalization in the final few months of his life.

It was complications of long-standing coronary artery disease that brought us to an emergency room. My husband also had Alzheimer’s and we had managed successfully at home with myself as his sole caregiver until this time.

Throughout his care journey, I tried to answer the healthcare professionals’ questions, sometimes over and over again. However, when I had questions, explanations, or suggestions for them, it seemed there were few who would listen. I found this frustrating and not supportive, and I felt it negatively impacted the care my husband received.

When my husband reached the end of his life at home, under less than satisfactory conditions, I was more devastated by how things had been mishandled than by him having died.

In spite of my best efforts, things had gone terribly wrong. I didn’t want anyone else to have to endure what we’d been through. The system had failed us and it needed to be made aware. If I didn’t speak up would I be able to live with myself?

It was not easy to gather my thoughts and express them in a letter to Northern Health’s Patient Care Quality Office. However, I also felt that unless I made them aware of the situation, and changes were made, it was likely that other patients and their families would suffer similar outcomes. I didn’t want that to happen.

So began my continuing mission to speak up about the shortcomings that I had seen within healthcare. I joined Patient Voices Network (PVN) and have been given numerous opportunities to tell my story. I had tried to “speak up” during my husband’s journey, but often the response we received was “too little”, “too late” or both.  However, it wasn’t too late to speak out for others. My story supports how a focus on person- and family-centred care can improve care.

Currently, I am participating as a patient partner with Northern Health’s planning committee for the celebration of Canadian Patient Safety Week. This year’s theme is Conquer the Silence.

I find it alarming and unacceptable that one in three Canadians have been affected by preventable healthcare harm. Every 17 minutes someone dies in a hospital from an adverse event. Preventable healthcare harm is the third leading cause of death in Canada. This means that 28,000 people die each year who shouldn’t. Silence plays a major role.

So, if something looks wrong, feels wrong, or is wrong, speak out. You can effect improvements or even save a life. Check out the information on Canadian Patient Safety Week’s Conquer Silence campaign, learn about Patient Voices Network or contact Northern Health’s Patient Care Quality Office.


Thank you, Sally, for sharing your story!

Have a complaint about care? Here’s the process you should follow:

  1. Individuals with concerns or complaints should first speak with the person who provided the service, or to the manager of the area. Complaints are best addressed and resolved at the time and place they occur.
  2. If this isn’t an option or doesn’t serve you, the next step is to speak to local administration.
  3. If your complaint remains unresolved, please contact the NH Patient Care Quality Office.
Marlene Apolczer

About Marlene Apolczer

Marlene is the Quality Improvement Lead for the Northern Interior and is based in Prince George. Marlene is a longtime health care employee and worked in a number of program areas before bringing all of her knowledge and experience to her current role. When she is not working, you can usually find Marlene in a school gymnasium or hockey arena cheering on her teenage sons!


Free nicotine replacement therapy: double the chances, double the odds to success!

A paper entitled tobacco reduction plan held by magnets to a fridge.

Having the right tools, supports and coping mechanisms in place can help improve your overall chances of living tobacco-free.

Do you smoke or chew commercial tobacco products?

How does six months of free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), including patches, gum, inhalers, or lozenges, sound? Here is your chance, before the year ends, to access your 2019 stock of NRT and combine it with next year’s supply for optimal success.

Nicotine cravings: not all the same

When you crave tobacco, what you’re really craving is nicotine, an addictive chemical found in commercial tobacco products. NRT provides your body with clean nicotine that fulfils those cravings, without the exposure to hazardous chemicals found in commercial tobacco products.

Having the right tools, supports, and coping mechanisms in place can help improve your overall chances of living tobacco-free.

Six ways you can improve your chances of living tobacco-free:

  1. Have a plan in place. Remember: this is a lifestyle change! Plan for triggers and risky situations to help make sure you stay tobacco-free.
  2. Detox tobacco. Get rid of your tobacco product as well as ashtrays both in the house and vehicle.
  3. Have open dialogue with friends, family and coworkers. This can keep you on track.
  4. Know your cues. If you need to hold something in the absence of a cigarette, substitute it with a stick of celery, carrot, or pen.
  5. Get counselling. Evidence shows that having a counselor or peer support group is effective when it comes to quitting.
  6. Use tobacco cessation services in combination with nicotine replacement therapy and medication. This combo makes you three to four times more likely to quit.

If you want to quit or decrease your tobacco use, talk to your primary care provider (such as a doctor or nurse practitioner).

You can also access the following tobacco cessation resources below:

  • QuitNow offers free information, support, and counseling by trained professionals by phone, text, or email.
  • BC Smoking Cessation Program: Everyone in BC can access 12 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy (gum, patch, inhaler and lozenges) per calendar year through their local pharmacy. Women who are pregnant or lactating are advised to consult with their doctor or pharmacist.
  • First Nations Health Authority benefits program offers supplementary coverage for nicotine replacement therapy.
Lindsay Willoner

About Lindsay Willoner

Originally from Ontario, Lindsay started her nursing career with Northern Health in 2006 as a public health nurse. Since then, Lindsay has branched out in a variety of leadership roles both within and outside NH, including as a public health resource nurse, working with Options for Sexual Health, community influenza contracts, BCNU stewardship, and working at the local long-term care facility. Lindsay currently works as Regional Nursing Lead for Tobacco Reduction based out of the Terrace Health Unit.


June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada

The image gives the acronym F.A.S.T. or "fast" for the signs of a stoke. F for Face - Is it drooping? A for Arms - Can you raise both? S for Speech - Is it slurred or jumbled? T for Time to call 9-1-1 right away.

June is Stroke Month. Recognize the sign of a stoke. Photo credit: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (2017).

June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada, a time to learn more about what a stroke is, what the risk factors are, and what some of the key signs and symptoms may be.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood stops flowing to a part of your brain damaging brain cells. The effects of stroke can vary depending on the part of the brain that was affected, type of stroke, and how much of the brain was damaged.

What are the risk factors of a stroke?

Did you know that stroke is one of the leading causes of death in Canada? In fact, nine out of 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for stroke or heart disease. Risk factors for stroke include things that we cannot control (non-modifiable) and things that we can control (modifiable).

Non-modifiable risk factors that can increase your risk of stroke include:

  • Age
    • While a stroke can happen at any age, those over the age of 55 are at a higher risk
  • Family history
    • Having an immediate family member (parent, grandparent, or sibling) with stroke, especially before the age of 65.
    • Certain genetic conditions.
  • Ethnicity
    • Being of African, Hispanic, or South Asian descent.
  • Sex
    • While strokes affect both men and women, it occurs more frequently in women. This is thought to be, in part, due to women having a longer life expectancy than men.
    • Other risk factors specific to women include pregnancy, history of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, gestational diabetes, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy.
  • Having had a prior stroke, TIA (mini-stroke), heart attack, or certain conditions such as atrial fibrillation can significantly increase your risk for stroke.

Stroke can happen at any age, but the good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent a stroke. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of strokes are preventable. To decrease the risk of a stroke, you can address modifiable risk factors such as:

  • Getting regular physical activity:
    • Adults aged 18-64 should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in spurts of 10 minutes or more. Adding muscle and bone strengthening activities, at least 2 days per week, is also recommended.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Eating a healthy diet, balanced with fruits and vegetables.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Drinking in moderation.
  • Managing your stress levels.
  • Taking steps to manage your high blood pressure and diabetes.

Visit the Heart and Stroke website to assess your risk and to learn more about how to decrease your risk for stroke.

How to recognize a stroke as it’s happening

Use the FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) acronym to help recognize the signs of a stroke and take action right away:

  • Face… is it drooping?
  • Arms… can you raise both?
  • Speech… is it slurred or jumbled?
  • Time… to call 9-1-1 right away.
Daman Kandola

About Daman Kandola

Daman is a Health Sciences PhD candidate at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and senior Research Associate with the School of Nursing at UNBC. She is currently working as a Research Fellow with Northern Health on stroke care, funded by a national Health System Impact Fellowship through Northern Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Her PhD research explores the use, barriers, and facilitators to the use of emergency health services among stroke survivors and their caregivers in Northern BC. Born in Vancouver, but raised in Prince George, she is passionate about research around health access and equity, particularly among Northern, rural, and remote populations. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, exploring the outdoors, or travelling.


Happy World No Tobacco Day 2019!

World No Tobacco Day graphicI’ve been a registered nurse with Northern Health (NH) for over 13 years. During that time, I’ve had the privilege to care for the health and well-being of people living in this region and our diverse communities. Unfortunately I’ve seen first-hand, the long-term effects that commercial tobacco use has on people in the North.

Tobacco disease affects families

Growing up, I witnessed the complications tobacco use had on my childhood friend’s father; he passed away from lung cancer when we were only 12 years old. Tobacco disease affects the whole family. I know my friend wishes her father was there to watch her graduate, walk her down the aisle, and meet her three children.

Reducing tobacco use

In my role as the Regional Lead for Tobacco Reduction for NH, I try to understand a person’s experience, and I work to reduce disease within our communities through awareness and prevention. This year, the goal of 2019 World No Tobacco Day is to limit the intake of tobacco products and second-hand smoke for ideal lung health.

Do you know these facts about tobacco use?

  • Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in Canada.
  • Tobacco use kills almost 7,000 British Columbians each year. Over 100 of these British Columbians are non-smokers.
  • Children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk for lung damage.

How to keep your family’s lungs in peak condition:

  • The best thing you can do for your health is to quit smoking. If, at first, you don’t succeed, keep trying. You’re not alone, there’s help: Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit ca for free help.
  • Avoid letting anyone smoke in your house. If you smoke, wear a “smoking shirt,” and remove it before coming back inside.
  • Never smoke in the car, especially when a child is the passenger.

The BC Provincial Smoking Cessation Program includes information for eligible BC residents who wish to stop smoking or using tobacco products. To access your free Nicotine Replacement Therapy, go to the BC Smoking Cessation Program or speak to your local pharmacist.

Other helpful resources:

Note: in this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco.

Lindsay Willoner

About Lindsay Willoner

Originally from Ontario, Lindsay started her nursing career with Northern Health in 2006 as a public health nurse. Since then, Lindsay has branched out in a variety of leadership roles both within and outside NH, including as a public health resource nurse, working with Options for Sexual Health, community influenza contracts, BCNU stewardship, and working at the local long-term care facility. Lindsay currently works as Regional Nursing Lead for Tobacco Reduction based out of the Terrace Health Unit.


“Don’t judge us. None of us want to die.” A success story of a woman struggling with addiction

Selfie of Teri-Lynn.

“If it wasn’t for naloxone or Narcan, I’d be dead,” she says.

Teri-Lynn was put up for adoption by her biological parents, both of whom struggled with substances. She remembers from a young age thinking she’d done something wrong to not be loved or wanted. This message became deep-rooted as she was moved from foster home to foster home due to abusive environments. Fortunately, Teri-Lynn eventually moved into a great, safe foster home, with people who she still has a close relationship with.

Growing up, she still unconsciously, yet desperately, sought acceptance. She found that despite being kicked out of school, providing THC (the mind-altering ingredient found in cannabis) to her friends was worth it to her. At 14 years old, she became hooked on crack cocaine, a habit she supported by engaging in criminal activity. After three years of experiencing repeated episodes of paranoia and drug-induced psychosis, she hitchhiked with a friend to the downtown East side of Vancouver and soon began using heroin and fentanyl.

This cycle of stealing and other criminal activity continued until her 18th birthday, when she became pregnant. She did her best to cut back on her use, to “do right by her baby,” but after a year, this lifestyle was too much and after one hit, she was hooked again.

She became re-entrenched in a life of stealing and other criminal activity to support her substance use habit. During that time, nurses, shelter staff, strangers, and mental health workers revived her 22 times.

“If it wasn’t for naloxone, I’d be dead,” says Teri-Lynn. “I was tired of having seizures, going to jail, being on the psychiatric unit for being suicidal, seeing cops outside my window, hiding in the closet because I was so paranoid, going to detox three times and treatment three times.”

After being on the methadone program for three years, fearing she’d overdose due to ongoing polysubstance use, she made the move back to Fort St. John with only a 4-week prescription.

After connecting with the Fort St. John Northern Health mental health office, she was immediately accepted into the Opiate Substitution Treatment Program (OSTP) and began working with the staff and Dr. Ohiaeri (now the Northern Health Medical Lead for Addiction in the Northeast).

Opiate Substitution Treatment provides clients with methadone or Suboxone to provide stable, long-acting relief from withdrawal and cravings. These medications replace the heroin or fentanyl that’s causing the problem with a regular dose of medication, which allows for a stable life.

During the intake process for the program, she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and knew that changes needed to be made.

“Dr. Ohiaeri understood how hard it was for me, but still called me out when I told him I wasn’t clean. At first I didn’t like him, but looking back that’s what I needed,” says Teri-Lynn.

She recalls how the Women’s Resource Society and the mental health office helped her navigate the medical system, which had previously looked down on her and judged her. She found the staff to be open-minded and caring.

She was placed on medical disability due to a seizure disorder and things started to look up. She had stable housing and a regular income and was ready to make some big changes. She joined Narcotics Anonymous, working the 12-step program and going to church. These agencies provided some much needed support and acceptance.

It was at this time she requested to be transitioned into Opiate Agonist Treatment (OAT), with the intention of coming off medication altogether. This program supports clients with opioid use disorder by using a harm reduction approach and providing overdose survival training, take home naloxone kits, and opioid agonist therapy (buprenorphine/naloxone or methadone). Opioid agonist therapy works to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings for opioid drugs. People who are addicted to opioid drugs can take OAT to help stabilize their lives and reduce the harms related to their drug use.

Teri-Lynn characterizes this decision as “the best thing ever. It helped me stay clean. Everyone should be offered it. I started on 32mg and within three months was down to 2mg. I’ve been off for 30 days and I don’t have any cravings. These past several months have been the first time in my life I’ve been motivated, happy and healthy. I’m even working part-time as a cashier at a local fast food establishment.”

She has reconnected with her 13-year-old daughter, who lives full-time with her father, and has recently been granted custody of her 5-year-old daughter, four days a week. She is slated to go to court in the near future, with the support of the foster mom, to ask for full custody. Teri-Lynn was also referred for Hep C treatment and is now cured.

Her advice: Have naloxone at shelters, Women’s Resource Centre, Mental Health Centres, hospitals, and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Make access to naloxone easy. Have peer volunteers providing clean needles, naloxone kits, and candy for people on the streets.

“Don’t judge us. None of us want to die,” says Teri-Lynn.

Teri-Lynn has naloxone kits in her car, her house, and her purse.

“If it wasn’t for naloxone or Narcan, I’d be dead,” she says.

She currently holds a General Service Resource position with Narcotics Anonymous, chairs meetings, and advocates opiate substitution treatment to her peer groups.

If you or someone you know needs help, go to the Northern Health Mental Health and Substance Use webpage, the overdose prevention webpage, or call the crisis line at 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE).

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.


Our People: Spotlight on Kyle Smith, Audiologist, Fort St. John

Kyle standing on a riverbank.

Kyle Smith, Audiologist in Fort St. John.

For Kyle Smith, it was his interest in language and communication that led him to a career in audiology. Growing up off the grid, he developed a love for the outdoors which made his move to Fort St. John with his fiancée a great fit! Before choosing audiology as a career, he completed a culinary degree and was a tree planter and self-professed “ski bum” before he decided to go back to school for creative writing. This ultimately led him to audiology.

May is Speech and Hearing Month, so I spoke with Kyle to learn a little more about him and what it’s like working as an audiologist!

In your own words, what does an audiologist do?

Audiology is a big field! It involves communication and hearing health, as well as balance. It includes what you might typically picture an audiologist doing — things like hearing tests and helping people with hearing devices. But it also includes things you might not picture, like occupational noise testing: walking around with a sound level meter and determining whether there’s a dangerous amount of sound or not. I’m part of a community health team in Fort St. John. Along with hearing tests, I also help little kids learn to use their ears. That could mean teaching families about communication strategies, or using hearing aids, or helping make homes and schools hearing-friendly places. Basically, I work on the hearing or input side of speech and language development.

Audiologists also help adults with balance disorders — these can be complicated to test! There’s a complex interaction between our inner ear, eyes, and the mechanical receptors in our feet and leg muscles. They work as a team to tell us if we’re standing upright or not. When these aren’t in balance with each other, people can get queasy and lose their balance.

Can you tell me about your career so far?

I’m pretty new to my role. I started in October 2018. Since I started school six years ago, the field has already changed in huge ways. There are little computers in hearing aids themselves. If you think about the advances in smart phones and cameras and how far that technology has come — hearing aids are similar. You can get hearing aids that are controlled by apps. From what I understand, the next generation may even connect to the internet!

How are speech and hearing related?

They’re very connected — basically they’re two sides of the same coin. We don’t learn speech on our own. Hearing our guardians’ voices as babies, we eventually make sense of the “blurbs” they’re saying as syllables and words and then sentences. We need practice to get good at it. It’s the turn taking and the conversation when we’re communicating that counts towards learning language. If someone isn’t getting input, they won’t understand that sounds have meaning and are connected to people moving their faces around. There are little cues — for example if someone is missing their “f’s” and “s’s,” that may indicate hearing loss, as in they may not have ever heard the sound to know it.

What kind of education is needed to be an audiologist?

In Canada, you need a master’s degree. I did a Master of Science in Audiology and Speech Sciences at the University of British Columbia. It takes a four year undergraduate degree and volunteer work to get in. The master’s program is about two to three years long — it depends if you do a thesis or go on to complete a doctorate afterwards. After school, you don’t stop learning! I’m going to a conference in May. Things are always changing and updating in the field, especially with the technology.

What does a regular day look like for you?

Every day looks a bit different which is one of the things I enjoy about my job! A lot of my day involves patient care. I mostly see kids aged nine months to 19. I try and determine what they can hear, and if they’re having difficulties, then I figure out where the break down is and how to fix it, so to speak. For some kids, I’m trying to figure out how they can hear better in the classroom or in daily life. I get to work with new and cool technology. There are some fun gadgets like bone conduction hearing aids; they vibrate the skull so that sound can be interpreted that way, rather than through the outer ear.

What’s your favourite or most rewarding part of your role?

I love those “Youtube moments” when a baby hears their parent’s voice for the first time. I also love being at the intersection of health care and cool new gadgets — I get to troubleshoot problems and fix things in real time which I enjoy. I also love helping kids access the sounds and conversation around them so they can keep up with their hearing peers. Hearing loss can really isolate us from people.

What sort of collaboration is there in the audiology field?

I’d like to give a shout out to the BC Early Hearing Program. They’re a global leader in the detection of hearing loss in newborns, with amazing follow through to coordinating medical or technological interventions when needed. In a recent national survey on early hearing detection and intervention, all the different provincial programs were ranked and BC was a shining star!

I work closely with the BC Early Hearing Program, mostly with kids aged nine months to five years. If they’ve had hearing loss, we work in tandem to coordinate services, whether that’s getting funding for devices or using a team approach to get a speech pathologist, or sign language instruction for deaf infants born to hearing parents, if they choose that route.

How are kids screened for hearing loss?

Just about every newborn baby is screened at birth. If there’s risk factors identified, then they’re followed up and checked on. When kids are school-aged, they do a Kindergarten screening and language assessment. There’s more information on the NH Hearing Program website.

How can someone see an audiologist?

Seeing a public health audiologist requires a referral. These can come from a variety of sources depending on the concerns and the community:

  • Registered nurses and allied health professionals
  • Doctors and medical specialists
  • Child development centres
  • Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the school districts

Learn more

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)


Advance Care Planning in Long Term Care

Patti sitting on a boulder amongst rocks.

ACP Lead Patti reminds us to have a conversation about end of life care with our loved ones.

I started working with Advance Care Planning (ACP) about a year and a half ago. While my position includes promoting ACP, I’m also a nurse consultant with the palliative care team, which means I meet with clients who reside in Long Term Care (LTC) facilities.

When I did my Registered Nurse (RN) training many years ago, I did a portion of my practicum in a LTC facility; at the time it was seen by my classmates as a position that lacked excitement and offered limited experience. Twenty-seven years later, I see this experience differently! LTC is an area where there is more of a focus on comfort and normalcy within the resident’s care, because this is likely the last home they will reside in. In these kinds of situations, we must consider the individual’s needs and wants within the care that they receive, including cultural-based values and beliefs. As such, it’s even more important that there’s a focus on the individual, and whether they have thought about what’s important to them regarding their wishes for end-of-life care.

The last year in this position has led me to further see and understand the importance of ACP in LTC facilities, including: discussions that need to happen amongst family members; awareness regarding what the future looks like for the resident; and situations and circumstances that need to be explained. Not having these conversations may lead to misunderstandings and the failure to follow the dying person’s wishes.

As health care staff, we have to ensure that there are open lines of communication with the family members and loved ones, as well as the residents. As a family member, we need to be proactive, involved, and not afraid to ask questions, in order to be informed. ACP needs to be an ongoing process to keep everyone from questioning care choices. Sometimes the residents are at a stage where they can no longer have these conversations, or they may not have loved ones who are involved, and these topics don’t always get discussed. This makes it even more important to have these conversations with our patients before it’s too late, at a time when they are still able to express their wishes.

The extended length of stay creates relationships and bonds between staff and the residents, often closer ones than exist in regular hospital wards. So, sometimes it can be difficult for the staff to experience the decline in the residents and the care involved, and even harder if there is no ACP in place.

Advance Care Planning day was April 16, but ACP should be encouraged every day whether it’s with a loved one or a patient. Find out what’s important to them and get them thinking about what their beliefs and values are, and what would matter most to them at end-of-life. Let’s all work at promoting ACP and make an effort to have those conversations. For more information on ACP visit and

Patti Doering

About Patti Doering

Patti was raised in Prince George and graduated from the CNC Nursing Program in 1991. She has been employed with Northern Health for 26 years and has worked in many different areas such as Med/Surg, Emergency, Mental Health and the Operating Room. Patti joined the Palliative Care Consultation team in October 2017, in a one year term position which is focusing on personal support worker palliative care education, advanced care planning, and other projects which support the work of the consultation team. Patti is presently working on her BScN through the UNBC’s online program. In her spare time, she enjoys the outdoors, sports, and spending time with her daughters and her schnauzer, Dexter.