Healthy Living in the North

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.


Public dental health: A career that makes a difference

Spirit the Cariboo holding a toothbrush with a poster that shows how adults should brush with children.I’ve been working in dental prevention since I was 16 and I was extremely fortunate that my career found me. One of my childhood Girl Guide leaders worked at a dental office and called my mother to ask if I’d be interested in working part time. She said the dentist would train me.

Doors of opportunity

Saying “yes” to this opportunity opened many wonderful doors. I first worked as a “Girl Friday” doing errands for the dentist, and trained to do infection control. Next, I helped the dentist with checkups, fillings, extractions, and cleanings. I was lucky enough to study dental assisting and dental hygiene, and to become registered and licensed. After school, a door finally opened for me to work in dental public health, so I moved to Terrace.

Improving the health of many

Over 30 years of practice, I’ve met hundreds, probably thousands of people, and being trusted with their dental health has been an honour. A dental career in public health is particularly satisfying because we apply a population health approach, which means we look at improving everyone’s health by reducing inequities or unfair health factors. One way to reduce these is to design targeted programs to people who have less advantages.

I recently read a report called “Key Health Inequalities in Canada” where poor oral health was listed as an indicator of poor overall health. Poor health can mean that a person might not have the same advantages as others. At Northern Health, we design programs that consider the social, political, and economic disadvantages that people face. In the dental program, we focus on the youngest population – children six and under and their caregivers – because working with children has the potential for the most long-term impact. As a team, we need to work efficiently and effectively, so we can stretch health care dollars.

Dental health prevention in action

The Northern Health dental team screens all one-year-olds for tooth decay, and uses the results to decide which preventive services families need.

We also offer fluoride treatments to children of at-risk families, as well as supportive and non-judgemental counselling on preventive dental care. We encourage parents to use their best parenting strength or skills and then build on that.  We then encourage families to decide on the dental goals and path that work best for their situation. It’s a rewarding experience to see a worried, sleep deprived mother learn about tools she can use in her home to stop decay in her one-year-old’s teeth.

Supporting small steps in a healthy direction

Cavities are a chronic disease caused by bacterial acid’s progressive damage to teeth over time. Giving a family fluoride toothpaste and toothbrushes so they can brush twice daily reduces the acid’s impact and empowers change. Telling families to consider how much carbohydrate children eat, and how often, is also key in supporting better oral health.

Mothers have told us they‘re telling their friends to come to the program because of the benefits they’ve experienced. It’s rewarding to see people take small steps in a healthier direction. Not all of our clients are able to make our recommended changes, yet we continue to offer to see them and provide services to build meaningful relationships over time.

Working in Public Health Dental: making an impact

As we honour and meet people in the situations they’re in, I believe both dental staff and the clients see benefits. I feel very fortunate to be able to help someone with a skill that’s so critical to their long-term health. If you‘re a dental professional already, I encourage you to consider public health as a career path to explore — you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re exploring career options, consider dental health! You’ll impact families who need you, and it’s work that’ll make both your heart and mouth smile.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.


Oral health is not an out of body experience

Spirit the Cariboo at a fluoride varnish clinic with an NH staff member.One of the things that always strikes me as odd is that the mouth is often considered a separate body part when we’re discussing health issues. Did you know an unhealthy mouth can affect your appearance, social acceptance, and ability to eat and sleep? An infection in the mouth comes from a bacterial infection; these bacteria have the potential to travel through the bloodstream and affect other organs. Many people don’t realize that oral infections can impact chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and even birth rates.

Your mouth is an important part of your body! And we all need to treat it as such in order to be and stay as healthy as possible.

Empowering healthy dental behaviours

I’m a dental regional program lead – I teach and provide resources and tools to empower public health staff to support our northern population around adopting healthy dental behaviours. Dental public health staff work towards helping people achieve the skills they need to start making small changes – commonly called brief action planning. We want them to start today to make a small change.

How small changes can make a big difference

If someone decides today to use fluoride toothpaste daily (or better yet, twice daily), when previously they did not, the science tells us that their long range dental decay rate will reduce.

If today, a teenager starts chewing a sugar-free piece of gum after a snack, the length of time of the acidic attack on their teeth will diminish, and they will have less decay over their lifetime.

If someone makes a small change every day, the dental preventive effect is maximized and continues to increase.

I dream of a day when all dental treatment needs are covered by a universal dental plan; however, at this time, I am happy to focus my attention on what I can practically influence.

The cost of prevention: a positive return on investment

My perspective is that the cost of prevention is cheaper than the cost of chronic disease treatment in hospital. I once had a client who had diabetes and a mouth full of decayed teeth, coupled with no funding to fully treat the oral health issue. Not being able to eat impacted this person’s diabetes, and uncontrolled diabetes affected their emotional stability, resulting in a long hospital stay. Chronic and untreated oral infections take a toll on the body and in this case, the finances of the health care system.

Advocating for change

I continue to advocate for the best avenues to help clients access dental care, but every day I encourage my staff to implement the practical applications of dental prevention. Some of these include:

  • Using fluoride toothpaste twice a day.
  • Reducing frequent sipping on sweetened beverages.
  • Practicing empathy and respect so patients feel comfortable.

It takes many caring individuals across a broad spectrum of disciplines to implement change. I continue to believe change for the better is always possible… even if it’s only one tooth brushing session at a time.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.


Imagine a cavity-free world

Spirit the Cariboo holding a large toothbrush, standing against a mural of handprints.The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future tells me to embrace the dream of a cavity-free world. It’s hard to capture what the burden of dental decay is, but estimates indicate that 35% of the population has cavities, which means 3.9 billion people are affected.

The World Dental Federation states that poor oral health affects our ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain or discomfort. Around the globe, 60-90% of school-aged children and nearly 100% of adults have experienced tooth decay. In fact, dental caries (or tooth decay) are the most common, yet preventable, chronic disease — so what’s the problem and what can we change to make a difference moving forward?

The levels of preventive dentistry

I’ve been working in various levels of preventive dentistry since I was sixteen. Every action I did as a chair-side dental assistant was to help the dentist help people to keep their teeth for their lifetime. My “after school job” turned into my career and I first trained to become a certified dental assistant and then a few years later, a registered dental hygienist. My goal was to work one-on-one with people to  support and teach them how to stop cavities in their mouths.

Next, I was lucky enough to move from the private-practice dental world to work in public health at Northern Health. We see at-risk clients and support them as individuals to adopt prevention strategies.

We also target groups and professionals who could share preventive messaging in their work. My career has given me room to grow — from serving the individual client, to serving a population.

I’ve recently grown into a position that supervises dental staff in our region. I continue to encourage dental staff to embrace the dream of preventing cavities in our patients. We often see poverty as an underlying driver of decay, so we look for ways to support and serve them; we advocate for policy changes that support our patients.

Making a difference

Over the years, we’ve made a difference in people’s lives — the staff can tell you rewarding stories of gratitude from the families we serve. However, dental decay is such a big problem that it makes our efforts seem small.

When I discovered that there’s a worldwide body of people championing a cavity-free world, I was very excited! The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future works together to advocate for good dental prevention practices. They could reach beyond the local dental office and public health sphere and shift dental outcomes in our culture. As Steve Jobs said, “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually do.”

The Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future

Here’s some history of this world-changing group: In February 2016, the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future put on the World Caries Prevention Symposium in Dubai. The event brought together experts from key disciplines, including nutrition, education, behaviour change, cariologists (how-to stop cavity experts), public health, clinical practice, and integrated management of cavities.

These experts came from across the globe to debate and strategize the practical steps to move the world toward a cavity-free state. Researchers report that more and more people around the world are getting cavities.

Some of the group’s goals to stop decay were:

  • Educate the whole medical team to champion dental prevention.
  • Support the most effective behaviour change models to be used in dentistry, like Brief Action Planning (a short discussion to help people to make a new health goal).
  • Experts on cavities think the best way to stop decay is to wait longer between meals, so our mouths have time to rest.
  • The same experts also think reducing the amount of sugar we eat to only 10% of our daily calories would help reduce cavities.

For more information

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.


It’s Pharmacy Awareness Month: Learn more about clinical pharmacists in the hospital

Jessie McIntosh working at a desk.

Jessie McIntosh in action.

March is Pharmacy Awareness Month, and as pharmacy residents at Northern Health, I and my colleague Jessica Manning wanted to let you know a little about the job that makes us excited to come to work each day.

What do we do?

Clinical pharmacists are drug experts involved in various areas of medication management, such as:

  1. Checking to make sure each drug is necessary, effective, and safe for each patient.
  • We check to make sure patients are getting the right drug at the right dose at the right time.
  • Patient age, weight, kidney and liver function, lab tests, drug interactions, allergies, and cost are just some of the things we look at to make sure a drug is right for a patient.
  1. Working with the healthcare team to make each patient’s drug regimen the best it can be:
  • Recommending medication changes to the prescriber.
  • Monitoring various medications and following up with medication changes.
  • Making sure patients are getting all the medications they usually take at home and need in the hospital.
  • Providing the team with detailed up-to-date drug information.
  1. Working with patients to make sure patients are engaged in managing their health by:
  • Discussing their preferences to make sure each patient’s health goals are being met.
  • Counselling patients on how to take their medications, how to know if medications are working for them, and how to manage side effects.
  • Sometimes following up with patients who’ve been discharged from hospital, especially if there’s a complex medication plan (for example, for blood thinners or antibiotics, to name a few).

A pin that says I heart pharmacy.What does that mean for our patients?

Studies show that clinical pharmacists help:

  1. Reduce the time patients spend in hospital
  2. Improve patient health and chronic disease management
  3. Improve patient safety
  4. Reduce healthcare costs

My hospital pharmacist told me they’re a resident – what does that mean?

  • A hospital pharmacy residency is a year-long program that some pharmacists choose to do after they’ve graduated from university.
  • A resident is not required to be a hospital pharmacist, but it helps to build on clinical skills in a practical learning environment.
  • Residents have many rotations on different wards and in different areas of practice throughout the year (e.g., surgery, emergency, pediatrics, intensive care, research).
  • The program focuses on direct patient care, pharmacy operations, project management and personal aspects of pharmacy.
  • The goal of the residency program is to better prepare pharmacists for challenging and innovative pharmacy practice in the hospital setting. After finishing the program, pharmacists become competent and independent clinical practitioners of pharmaceutical care in diverse patient populations.
  • Pharmacy residents develop clinical, interprofessional, and leadership skills under the guidance of experienced preceptors.
  • Northern Health’s pharmacy residency program is fully accredited, and graduates of the program receive their ACPR designation (Accredited Canadian Pharmacy Residency).

Happy Pharmacy Awareness Month!

Jessie McIntosh

About Jessie McIntosh

Jessie is a registered pharmacist, currently three quarters of the way through a pharmacy residency with Northern Health. She grew up in Vanderhoof, moving to Kelowna to complete her prerequisites at UBCO and then graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from UBC in Vancouver in 2018. Jessie is thrilled to be back in the North and will continue to work for Northern Health, hopefully in a rural setting, after completing her residency. In her free time Jessie likes skiing, hiking, cooking, ceramics, and being in the great outdoors with friends.


Your flu shot: be strong like Tom

Thomas showing his muscles.
Be strong like Thomas: get your flu shot.

Did you know, this year’s flu shot is working better than past years? Official estimates have the flu shot hovering around 70% effectiveness, far better than recent years.

So, what’s your hesitation? Not enough time? Hate getting a needle? Not sure where to get one? If you’ve used any of these an excuse to avoid the flu shot, I’d like to introduce you to Thomas.

Thomas is 7, he has a dog named Kodiak, he does judo, and he wants to ­be an electrician when he gets a little older.

Besides being a pretty cool kid, Thomas knows the flu shot is the best way to protect himself from the flu. What he didn’t know, but he learned this year, is that it also helps protect everybody else! Kids like him, babies, the elderly, and those with vulnerable immune systems are all impacted by him getting the shot!

Thomas and a local news crew.
“Just my arm was a little bit sore but that was ok because I got to be on the news.”

Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“I was a little nervous because I was afraid it would hurt a lot. But it didn’t hurt until after, and just my arm was a little bit sore but that was okay because I got to be on the news.”

Thomas is one tough kid!

Looking to be like Tom and get the shot? Find a flu clinic in no time on the Immunize BC website.