Healthy Living in the North

IMAGINE Grants: Agwiiyeet’inim̓ ahl g̱ahlgim̓ – We pass it on to our children

When Liza Haldane, LELP Coordinator, applied for an IMAGINE grant on behalf of the Lisims Early Learning Partnership, she wanted to honour the early learning table’s goals of celebrating their pre- and postnatal families by hosting an event that also raised awareness of the gaps in services for vulnerable members of the Nisga’a Nation: Lax̱galts’ap, Gingolx, Gitlax̱t’aamiks and Gitwinksihlkw (northwest of Terrace). For a goal like this to be achieved, she recognized that including the traditional and cultural values of the Nisga’a region would be very important. The relationships between generations and families would also have to be considered in the planning process and the event would have to carefully balance different traditions alongside the needed pre- and postnatal services. With all that in mind, project “Agwiiyeet’inim̓ ahl g̱ahlgim̓ – We pass it on to our children” was born!

A family hugging and smiling together.The goals of the project and event included:

  1. Honour the families who are expecting or who have newborn infants, and celebrate newborns in a traditional ceremony.
  2. Raise community awareness of the importance of supporting families who are expecting and who have newborn infants.
  3. Work together and practice Nisga’a law of Sayt-k’ilim-goot (one heart; to be united) by sharing services and resources for the betterment of Nisga’a families.
  4. Register families for existing programs and services.

How it happened:

Part of raising community awareness for supporting new or expecting families was done by welcoming entire families and the community to the event. This meant, during the event, families were circled and a prayer was said, making a commitment to support these families in raising their children.

At the event, prenatal families were invited to the front of the hall, honoured with a poem, and given a canvas painting to acknowledge their commitment to bringing a baby into this world. Families with newborns had the opportunity to have their questions answered, via a customized questionnaire that was provided. The babies were welcomed into their community with a beautiful house crest blanket, adorned upon them by their Wilp family members (members of a Wilp are all descendants of a common female ancestor). The total number of babies: 23 altogether!

A creative drawing of a pregnant woman.In order to share existing resources and programs, LELP partners, including early learning centers, public health nurses, community health representatives, Success By Six, and village governments, worked together and were united in delivering the ceremonies. Having partners experience and share equal time in the ceremonies helped balance tradition and incorporate wellness. After the ceremony, registration forms were made available and parents registered their children for the Imagination Library (books to kids program). Service providers spoke during the post-ceremony meal, promoting Dax̱gadim Anluuhlkw (translates to Strong Nest, which is a delivery and development strong start program), Welcome Baby Bags, and other relevant services.

“These events were so emotional. To see two to three generations of families proudly welcoming their babies into the community evoked emotions of happiness, pride, and so much love! At the end, we encircled the families in a community prayer, holding them up with words of strength and encouragement – it was very spiritual and moving.

A Chief got up and spoke at the end of the Laxgalt’sap/Gingolx event – he was full of gratitude and blessings for the ceremony. He said after tonight, he was once again filled with hope for our community, our culture and traditions. It brought many of us to tears.”

-Liza Haldane

What’s next?

As a result of this successful event and the sparked interest in traditional child rearing, organizers delivered a “Yask” workshop (rights of passage) for pre- and postnatal families and are working together to deliver another set of welcome baby ceremonies. These workshops will eventually rotate into smaller communities. The plan is to deliver ceremonies annually!

What is a Northern Health IMAGINE grant?

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We look for applicants that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities.

 

 

 

 

 

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Views: The 2018 Northern Healthcare Travelling Roadshow

The Healthcare Travelling Roadshow was conceived as a grass roots initiative to address rural healthcare workforce shortages. It brings together a multidisciplinary group of health-care students from post-secondary institutions around B.C. to showcase career opportunities to rural high school students. Since 2010, the roadshow has connected with more than 8500 students in 43 communities across the province. There are now two roadshows run each spring through the Northern Medical Program, as well as one through the Southern Medical Program (Kelowna).

Nope. It’s not a blog on Drake’s 2016 album – not even close. It’s better! Check out some of the amazing things the travellers of the 2018 Northern Healthcare Travelling Roadshow got to see and experience!

A big thank you to Ellen Kaufman, nursing student, for the wonderful pictures and captions!

Mayor of Smithers on a bike showing off city.

The Mayor of Smithers, Taylor Bachrach, met with the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants to show them around this beautiful northern community. Here, he explains the skiing options available at Hudson Bay Mountain.

brewery with wood bar and chairs

The Bulkley Valley Brewery opened in the summer of 2017. Here, the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants learn about entrepreneurship in Smithers.

hospital parking lot with front lawn

The Bulkley Valley District Hospital (BVDH) is a 25-bed acute care facility in the community of Smithers, BC. The participants of the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow were given a tour of the facility and learned about what makes this hospital such a positive team environment with modern technology and equipment.

bugwood bean wood storefront

The Bugwood Bean is a wonderful, locally-owned coffee shop on Main Street. Make sure you stop by for a fresh cup of your favourite coffee or tea!

library with mountains outside

A view of the Smithers Public Library and Hudson Bay Mountain from Main Street.

group standing in front of big wood sign

The 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants are excited to be heading north on the scenic Cassiar Highway. The journey continues!

last frontier lodge outside

Located at the second crossing of the Bell-Irving River, Bell 2 offers fuel services, full restaurant, general store, cabin rentals, and most excitingly, a helicopter ski lodge (pictured here). The Last Frontier Heli-Skiing Lodge boasts some of the most extensive back country skiing options in the world!

huge mountain with a white peak

Leaving behind the beautiful mountains of the Bulkley Valley as the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow heads northwest.

wood lodge with trees behind it

The 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants spent the night at the Tatogga Lake Lodge, located approximately 100 km south of Dease Lake. This lodge has a very rustic feel to it and friendly staff who will make you feel at home in the wilderness. Coffee is always on!

Some of the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants warm themselves by the fire in the Tatogga Lake Lodge. This lodge sports several different species of taxidermy animals such as moose, caribou, wolverine, grizzly bear, and timber wolves.

icy cold lake with mountain in the background

Tatogga Lake and the surrounding mountains are truly breathtaking, especially at sunset. Make sure to spend some time outdoors as you explore the great north!

lunch with the team on a cold day

After visiting the small community of Dease Lake, the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants enjoy a hearty outdoor lunch of soup and sandwiches. At this time of year, the weather is still cool and rainy, but some hot soup keeps you feeling toasty!

black bear walking across highway

The Cassiar Highway (HWY 37) is abundant with wildlife. Here, a black bear saunters casually across the roadway near Dease Lake, BC.

raw jade being sold outside

Here, raw pieces of jade can be seen before they are polished and carved into statues, jewelry, and/or figurines.

jade jewelry on table for sale

Although the community of Cassiar is now a ghost town, the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store still flourishes. Here, members of the 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow look at various pieces of jade jewelry and trinkets that are available in the store. Free coffee is also offered!

herd of bison standing in field

A herd of 2,000 bison lives in the Liard River area. They can often be seen grazing peacefully along the highway. At this time of year, you might be lucky enough to spot some newborn calves amongst the herd.

liard hotsprings

The Liard River Hot Springs are the second largest natural hot spring in Canada. With waters temperatures at a lovely 36oC, come enjoy a nice soak and relax! Well maintained change rooms and toilets are available for your convenience. The 2018 Healthcare Traveling Roadshow participants can be seen here enjoying the warm waters after a long day of traveling.

The waters of the Liard River Hot Springs are clear, warm, and inviting. So stay a while and enjoy the nature that surrounds you.

Bridge with signs from all over the world on it.

In Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, there is an impressive “Sign Post Forest” that has over 83,000 signs from all over the world! Some signs indicate the name of the traveler who placed the sign and how far they had to journey from their hometown to arrive in Watson Lake. Other signs simply indicate various road or city names from around the globe.

trail with a lot of signs around it

Come take a walk in Watson Lake’s “Sign Post Forest” and see how many different countries you can count. Don’t forget to bring a sign to contribute to the collection!

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Celebrating the work of dietitians in the north: Dietitians Day 2018

Did you know that March 14th is National Dietitians Day in Canada? On this day, we celebrate registered dietitians (RDs) as healthcare professionals who support health through food and nutrition. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on the contributions of the approximately 35 passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated RDs that work all throughout Northern Health. In particular, I started to think about those dietitians that have served in the north for many years and how things have changed over the years.

Linda’s story

 I first met Linda McMynn in the fall of 1996. She interviewed (and subsequently hired) me via videoconference for a job at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace. It was my first experience with videoconference, a very new technology at the time. Linda’s willingness and courage to use this brand new technology really speaks to her openness to seek out new challenges. Linda was the first dietitian to work in Terrace, moving here in the 1970s:

I got to write my own job description and develop the job the way I wanted. I felt very isolated in the beginning, but the job turned out to be a huge opportunity. I was able to explore and work in many areas of the profession that I wouldn’t have if I’d stayed in Vancouver.”

Working in the north helped shape Linda’s preferences and career path. She says that during her training, she enjoyed clinical work, but intensely disliked food service and administrative dietetics. However, in the past two decades with Northern Health, Linda has immersed herself in the food service world. She pioneered the development of high quality food service practices and policies that have improved food service in all Northern Health facilities.

Two dietitians cooking pasta together.

Left: Linda McMynn and Right: Flo Sheppard; circa 2010 in Smithers at a Northwest Dietitian gathering, making pasta.

When I asked Linda what she believed to be at the core of her work as a dietitian, she was quick to say ‘food first’:

The best way to ensure good nutrition is by preparing, eating, and enjoying good food  . . . ideally with others.”

Certainly, I recall her efforts to make this real for the residents of Terraceview Lodge, a residential living facility in Terrace. I’ve always been struck by how deeply Linda cares about the people she serves. Certainly, many dietitians, including myself, prefer to be working behind the scenes to make things better, like Linda.

Wendy’s story

 Wendy Marion-Orienti is a dietitian based out of Smithers. Like most northern dietitians, she is a generalist, working across the spectrum of care: health promotion and prevention, treatment, and long-term care. She is best known for her expertise in person-centred care, especially with clients with diabetes and disordered eating. When I first met Wendy in 1996, I was struck by her passion for food and her focus on providing whole-person care.

Two dietitians standing together on rock over looking valley near Smithers, BC.

Left: Wendy Marion-Orienti and Right: Shelly Crack; taken near Smithers circa 2010.

Wendy didn’t start out wanting to be a dietitian. Initially she was enrolled in a degree in interior design at the University of Saskatchewan. The program had set courses for the first two years. While taking a required nutrition course, she was struck by the professor’s impassioned description of nutrition and its ability to make a profound difference at the local, national, and global level. It was this discovery that motivated Wendy to switch career paths. Her upbringing on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan, where “we ate what we grew and very few foods were purchased (sometimes macaroni)” is what “planted [her] in nutrition,” so this switch to a career as a dietitian was an easy one.

When asked what she loves most about her work, Wendy said:

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with clients, families, colleagues, and community . . . to walk with them, and to support them in making informed choices about their health.”

 I, along with many other dietitian colleagues, have been on the receiving end of Wendy’s warm and nurturing support and friendship.

Reflections of nutrition: then and now

Collectively, Linda and Wendy have offered almost 100 years of quality service to northern BC.  When asked about changes in the nutrition landscape, both of them reflected on how the field of nutrition has continued to grow.

Linda noted that there has been a growth in the interest in food and nutrition:

When I first started working as a dietitian, nutrition was not a frequent topic of discussion in the media. I don’t remember there being the prevalence of food fads, supplements, and diets being promoted. There wasn’t much interest in where our food comes from. Now there is so much more interest in all aspects of food.”

 Wendy agreed. She reflected that, throughout the years, there are cycles of food fads – the “miracle” food was once broccoli, then kale, cauliflower, and coconut, to name a few. In truth, there are no magic foods, rather the wisdom of variety and balance prevail.

Wendy also appreciates the ever-expanding variety of foods that can be enjoyed. She remembers when yogurt and granola were rare, found only in health food stores. Now, an increasing number of people enjoy diverse eating patterns that incorporate foods from a variety of cultures and those locally grown or produced. Wendy incorporates influences from Korea, China, and Thailand into her cooking, as a result of travel to these countries. However, she occasionally enjoys a traditional meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, and fresh greens from the garden, which is a meal from her youth. Although the foods we eat and our understanding of healthy eating has grown over time, the basic understanding that food means more than nutrients, is key. Food celebrates who we are and where we come from.

This year’s Dietitians Day, I’d like to honour the RDs that have come before me, those I work with now, and those who will come next. I feel honoured to share in the work that dietitians do. RDs have a strong scientific knowledge base, and promote person-centered health, not only through food and nutrition, but also through their passion, commitment, and advocacy for the health and wellness of the communities they serve.

Do you have a story about how a dietitian has made a difference for you?  If so, we’d love to hear about it. Happy Dietitians Day!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Falling is not a “right of passage”; Falls Prevention Awareness Week

I’m approaching my 40th birthday. From where I stand now it seems impossible to me, that as kids we celebrated my parents 40th birthdays with black balloons, a cane, candy jellybean “pill” bottles, and a larger than life sign signifying “Over the Hill”.

Like these 40th birthday traditions, our culture embraces some aspects of aging that don’t make any sense. Take senior’s falls as an example, somehow as a society we accept that the majority of people experience a fall at some point as they age. Did you know that, for all age ranges, falling is a lead cause for injuries requiring hospitalization? No matter what age, we must all remember, falls are preventable!

November 6-12, 2017, marks the Finding Balance BC Falls Prevention Awareness Week. Falling, tripping, or slipping happens now and then to all of us, but falling with risk of serious injury does not have to be a normal part of aging.

seniors, falls prevention

Keeping active now helps prevent future falls.

What can you do?

  • Get up and go.
    • Keep your body moving and active. Focus on strong muscles and good balance. Strength and balance exercises are key to reducing the risk of falling.
  • Have your eyes checked.
    • Visiting an optometrist once a year can reduce your risk of falling.
  • Review your medications.
    • Bring everything you take (both prescription and non-prescription) to your pharmacy or doctor for a review.
  • Make small changes to your home.
    • Simple hazards are sometimes overlooked and often, easily fixed.
    • Install handrails and guardrails where needed.
    • Add lighting in hallways and nightlights in bathrooms and bedrooms.
    • Secure or remove area rugs so they don’t become tripping hazard in your home.
    • Salt and sand walkways in winter months.

With November and my birthday approaching, let’s challenge the social norms -I refuse to blow up a single black balloon! Falling is not a “right of passage”, and making small changes to our lifestyle and surroundings is a smart investment to our health and well-being, no matter what age.

Join Northern Health and participate in the BC Finding Balance Falls Prevention Week. Visit the Finding Balance BC website and talk to your doctor if you have had a slip, trip, or fall in the last year.

Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.

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Pulmonary rehabilitation in Prince George

Patient on exercise bicycle monitored by physiotherapist

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a well-established, well-researched intervention to help people with chronic pulmonary diseases cope with shortness of breath, develop activity tolerance, and improve quality of life.

When Dianne Gagne first arrived to take part in the new pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George, she had to stop twice to catch her breath en route from the parking lot of the YMCA to the room inside where the program is run. “I couldn’t even shower without getting short of breath,” shared Gagne, whose shortness of breath is caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other complications stemming from a fungal infection of her lungs that first appeared in her 20s.

Robin Roots, a physiotherapist, has seen this before. “For many people with a diagnosis of chronic pulmonary disease,” said Roots, “simply going to Walmart is not an option because of the walking requirement. They are left winded, short of breath, and unable to function.”

It is these challenges and more that the pulmonary rehabilitation program – a partnership between the YMCA of Northern BC, the UBC Department of Physical Therapy, and Northern Health – is working to address. And so far, as Dianne Gagne can attest, it seems to be working. “By the end, I could park and walk up to the room,” said Gagne. “I may never have my full lung function back – I was once an avid cross-country skier – but I’m noticing improvements. I can now do my daily chores without any issues and I’m walking for a full half-hour on the treadmill.”

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a well-established, well-researched intervention to help people with chronic pulmonary diseases cope with shortness of breath, develop activity tolerance, and improve quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation includes both an exercise component and education relating to proper disease management delivered by a team of health professionals, including physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, pharmacists, dietitians, respiratory therapists, and specialists.

“Exercise is really the distinguishing feature of this specialized program,” said Roots. “Each participant is assessed and receives an individualized program which is fully supervised. Participants take part in high intensity lower limb aerobic training, strengthening, and balance exercises. Because most participants are on oxygen and many are quite deconditioned, this exercise needs to be very closely monitored. We’ve got some participants on bicycles, some on arm cycles, some on treadmills. It’s all about understanding how much their body can do and designing exercises that increase their ability to take on daily living activities.”

For Gagne, the individualized program really stood out. “They scrutinize you very carefully,” said Gagne. “They would measure my oxygen levels, pulse, and blood pressure before and after exercises. If my oxygen saturation would fall below a certain level, the physiotherapists would stop me. They didn’t push me to do more than I could, but they did challenge me to do as much as I could! The exercise regimes they develop are specific to each individual. Some people were doing 2-3 minutes of activity, others were doing 45. The physiotherapists and students explain things at every step – they would tell me why I would be doing certain exercises.”

The pulmonary rehabilitation program has clearly had a positive impact on Gagne and the other participants. “Participants set their own goals,” said Roots, “and we try to get them there.” For many, the goal is simply to be able to better manage shortness of breath and to function day-to-day without getting short of breath – goals which can significantly improve quality of life. For Roots, however, the research points to an important system level benefit of the pulmonary rehabilitation program. “Research has shown that pulmonary rehabilitation can decrease emergency room visits for acute acerbations of COPD by 40 per cent. We know that there are approximately 300 hospitalizations for COPD per year in Prince George and that the average length of stay for someone with an acute exacerbation is nine days. There is also a readmission rate of 13 per cent. If we can reduce the number of ER visits and prevent hospitalizations, we can save the system a lot of resources.”

Gagne agreed: “This program is a preventive measure. It keeps you out of the hospital and teaches you how to look after your condition on your own.”

The pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George is an eight week program, with a cohort of 10-15 participants getting together twice weekly for exercises and education. Anyone with a diagnosis of chronic pulmonary disease can join the program, you just need to complete a pulmonary function test. You can access the rehabilitation program through your physician – ask them about it or tell them about it! Participants have come from as far as Smithers and work is underway to look at how the program can be made more accessible to people living outside of Prince George.

Patients on exercise bicycles monitored by physiotherapist

With one in four people likely to develop COPD in northern B.C., pulmonary rehabilitation programs have the potential to have a massive impact.

According to Roots, the pulmonary rehabilitation program in Prince George, which has received a lot of support from local respirologists Dr. Sharla Olsen and Dr. John Smith, is unique for a few reasons:

  • It represents a partnership between three organizations (a partnership that has also created a second program: cardiac rehabilitation).
  • UBC trains physiotherapy students in northern B.C. and the rehabilitation program offers a valuable site for clinical placements (“It’s win-win,” said Roots). The students provide a valuable service to the program participants while at the same time being trained under the supervision of a licensed physiotherapist.
  • While many pulmonary rehabilitation programs are run out of hospitals, this program is based in the community. This can help encourage participants to think about maintaining the gains they make in the program through active lifestyle opportunities right in the community.
  • The partnership has allowed for the program to be offered at very low cost to participants – just a $10 membership fee.

Both Roots and Gagne have a similar goal: they want more people to know about the program! With one in four people likely to develop COPD in northern B.C., pulmonary rehabilitation programs have the potential to have a massive impact.

“Without the program,” reflected Gagne, “I would be sitting at home, continually going downhill. And though these changes take time, I keep telling my doctors how fantastic the program was. I would like for more people to know about this program – it is available and is really helpful.”

COPD Support Group

Many participants in the pulmonary rehabilitation program see each other one more time each week through the Prince George COPD Support Group. I asked the group to tell me a bit about themselves and this is what the group’s treasurer, Nancy, shared:

The Prince George COPD Support Group, also known as the SOBs (Short of Breaths) gives those diagnosed with COPD (and any other lung issues) a place to learn how to cope with an unforgiving disease. Our group gets exercise directions from a licensed physiotherapist, who also gives informative chats on various issues related to the lungs. As members are all living with the same issues, we have a wealth of lay knowledge to fall back on and share with each other. We have coffee days where we often bring in speakers on a variety of subjects, which goes a long way towards educating us all. We are a dedicated group of boomers helping others as they help us. We are a fun group and invite new members to join – bringing a friend or family member is always welcome!

The group meets every Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the AiMHi Gymnasium in Prince George (950 Kerry Street).

What you need to know: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Although COPD is the most prevalent condition amongst pulmonary rehabilitation program participants, the program accepts people with any chronic pulmonary disease. Ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation.

From HealthLinkBC.ca:

  • COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe.
  • COPD is most often caused by smoking. Other possible causes include long-term exposure to lung irritants, neonatal lung disease, and genetic factors.
  • COPD gets worse over time. While you can’t undo the damage to your lungs, you can take steps to prevent more damage and to feel better.
  • The main symptoms are a long-lasting cough, mucus that comes up when you cough, and shortness of breath.
  • At times, symptoms can flare up and become much worse. This is called a COPD exacerbation and can range from mild to life-threatening.

According to the Canadian Lung Association, “chronic lung disease accounts for more than 6% of annual health-care costs in Canada, and COPD is the leading cause of hospitalization.” COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada. The Canadian Thoracic Society reports that a 2008 study “conservatively estimated the total cost of COPD hospitalizations at $1.5 billion a year.”


A version of this article was originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about healthy lungs – on ISSUU!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Are you a SmartMom?

Becoming a “mama” was the best thing to ever happen to me! As a nurse working in public health, I thought I had all of the knowledge, tools, and skills I needed to be a “smart” mom. I honestly thought it was going to be easy! During my pregnancy, I chose not to attend traditional prenatal classes due to transportation issues. Instead, I sought pregnancy, breastfeeding, labour, and delivery information from a variety of other credible sources including books, videos, websites, and our birth doula. Although I felt prepared, I was lacking a stronger support system that I did not even realize I needed.

pregnant women holding cell phone

SmartMom is a free text-based service that guides soon-to-be mothers through every week of pregnancy. Texts are tailored to their due dates and information is from trusted health sources.

When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I learned about a new prenatal education program that was coming to the north: SmartMom. SmartMom is a prenatal education program that texts evidence-based pregnancy information to women via phone or computer. It is the first program of its kind in Canada! As soon as I learned about SmartMom, I realized that this program would have been so helpful for me and my spouse during my pregnancy!

As my own experience suggests, nowadays, women are choosing to get their prenatal information in a variety of unique ways above and beyond traditional prenatal classes. The texts from SmartMom are meant to complement the prenatal education women are already accessing in their communities through group prenatal classes, one-on-one sessions with a health care provider, or their own research of credible sources. The beautiful thing about SmartMom is that it delivers text messages tailored to a woman’s stage in pregnancy.

How it works

sample of text messages

SmartMom will text you information tailored to your due date via cell phone or computer. To enroll, text “SmartMom” to 12323 or visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

Women sign up to receive text messages with information that can be helpful when discussing concerns with their health care providers, as well as supporting them in making choices about their health. In addition to receiving supportive prenatal information, women also have the option of subscribing to supplemental messages, including topics of specific interest to them: alcohol use in pregnancy, nutrition and exercise, substance and tobacco use, exposure to violence, being an older mom, and information about labouring after a caesarean section. These supplemental streams of messaging can assist women in making choices specific to their health and their pregnancy. The ultimate goal of SmartMom is to have healthier mommies, babies, and families!

SmartMom is available now! There are three ways to sign up:
• Contact a health care provider for information
• Text “SmartMom” to 12323
• Visit www.smartmomcanada.ca

As I came to realize, becoming a”smart” mom is a learning process; it takes time to learn how to be the healthiest version of yourself for your children and your family. A program like SmartMom can really help a new mom increase her knowledge and prepare for the wonderful journey that lies ahead!

Randi Parsons

About Randi Parsons

Randi has lived in northern BC since 2010 after graduating from the University of Alberta with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Since her graduation, Randi has held different nursing positions with a focus in maternal-child health. Her career as a nurse started on Pediatrics in Prince George before transitioning into Public Health Nursing in the Omineca area. For 5 years, Randi worked as a generalist Public Health Nurse, finding her passion in perinatal wellness, early child development and community collaboration. With her husband, daughter and two Chihuahuas, Randi lives in Fraser Lake, currently working as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, Child, Youth with Public Health Practice. When she is not nursing, Randi enjoys crafting, practicing yoga, learning to garden and being a mom! She is passionate about raising awareness for mental health and advocating for women, children and families.

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What is World No Tobacco Day?

WHO infographic

World No Tobacco Day is an opportunity to talk globally, nationally, provincially, and within our own communities about reducing commercial tobacco use.

What is World No Tobacco Day? It’s an opportunity to talk globally, nationally, provincially, and within our own communities about reducing commercial tobacco use*. The World Health Organization (WHO) states commercial tobacco use kills about 7 million people every year and this number is expected to grow to 8 million a year by 2030 without increased action.

We see the harms of tobacco use in our health care facilities, schools, and communities on a daily basis. Tobacco use contributes to worsening health such as respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease; meanwhile, health care costs continue to increase as we treat people for tobacco related illnesses.

We can act now to stop this trend. Northern Health has a smoke-free grounds clinical practice standard that promotes the health of our patients, staff, families, and friends. This standard prohibits smoking and vaping in our facilities and on our grounds. Many of our communities now have bylaws that also prohibit smoking and vaping in outdoor spaces. These laws directly impact the health of our communities in a positive way!

But, we need your help. We need you to help us provide information and support to people who may be using commercial tobacco or who vape in our smoke-free spaces. Most people who use commercial tobacco want to quit. There is help available at QuitNow.ca and free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) available at any pharmacy in B.C. Speak to a pharmacist for details. With support and resources, we can help make quitting become a reality for those who wish to quit.

Here are some tips for supporting tobacco users in smoke-free spaces to quit:

  • Inform the person or people using tobacco in a smoke-free area that they are doing so in an area where this is not allowed. Many of these bylaws are still pretty new!
  • Ask the person if he or she would like to quit using commercial tobacco.
  • Provide them with the QuitNow.ca website for free resources and support.

Thank you for doing your part to make commercial tobacco use a part of history!


*In this post and in most public health messaging, “tobacco” is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in B.C. for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

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Oral Health Month: Working in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic

Spirit the caribou in front of baby teeth poster
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic (EDOC) as the clinic coordinator. It’s an amazing clinic where our services are extremely valued. This year, EDOC was even nominated for a Healthier You Award in the Outstanding Multicultural Contribution category! With Oral Health Month now upon us, I wanted to take this chance to tell you a little more about this special service.

What is the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic?

EDOC is a not-for-profit clinic that was started in 2006 by Carole Whitmer, RDH, and Dr. Richard Wilczek as they sought to remove barriers for community members without access to dental care.

There are 20 not-for-profit clinics in B.C. and, apart from coordinator support offered by Northern Health, the clinic in Prince George is the only one that operates strictly with the support of volunteers. I think this speaks volumes to the amazing Prince George dental community! This clinic is only possible because of community partnerships between the local dental community, the Native Friendship Centre (who provide free space, accounting, utilities, and security), and Northern Health.

What do we do at the clinic?

The clinic provides a place for people to go to have emergency dental care free of charge. It is an extraction service only and runs in the evenings on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month out of a clinic in the Native Friendship Centre (1600 3rd Avenue, Prince George). Although free of charge, we gratefully accept donations, which help cover the cost of supplies.

Who uses EDOC services?

The people who access EDOC come from a variety of backgrounds and locations, but the common thread is a need and appreciation for the no-barrier access to emergency dental care. We have many repeat customers and there is a sense of community and caring amongst those waiting. A few months ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year, one of our clients left after his extraction only to return with a “Take 10” of Tim Hortons coffee for the dental volunteers and those still waiting for care! Even though those who use the clinic face financial challenges, what I’ve seen is that they gratefully donate what they can for the treatment provided.

EDOC is a much needed and appreciated program that serves the Prince George and the outlying areas – I feel lucky to be a part of this great program!

Jane Bartell

About Jane Bartell

Jane works at Northern Health as the Emergency Dental Outreach Clinic coordinator and as a community dental hygienist, travelling to many communities in the northern interior. Her passion is to have children in the north grow up as healthy as possible, especially from a dental perspective. In her spare time, Jane most enjoys spending time with family and friends hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing on the amazing trails around Prince George. She also enjoys the great music culture that Prince George offers.

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Celebrating the unveiling of Gitxsan art at Wrinch Memorial Hospital

Curtain being pulled off of art piece.

Mary Vanstone and Chief George Gray unveiling the art.

This past fall, Mary Vanstone, local administrator for Wrinch Memorial Hospital in Hazelton, hosted an event celebrating the unveiling of Gitxsan art. Local Indigenous artwork in health care settings helps to create a more welcoming and culturally safe space. For many people at the event, the commissioning and unveiling of this artwork was more impactful than expected.

The artwork symbolizes robes of authority with a crest that depicts the Indian Residential School experience from the Gitxsan perspective. The Northwest East Aboriginal Health Improvement Committee commissioned the art for the hospital entrance as part of an initiative funded by Aboriginal Health to develop local cultural resources.

The art was made by residential school survivors participating in the Gitxsan Health Society Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Program. At the unveiling event, several people who participated in its creation spoke about its meaning and their experiences working on it. Indian Residential School Resolution Health Support Worker Pamela Torres described the sessions where Indian Residential School survivors and family members from Kispiox, Sikedakh, and Gitanmaax came together, shared their stories, experiences, tears, and laughter as they worked to complete the beautiful artwork.

Also at the event, fellow support worker Gary Patsey described his experiences as an Indian Residential School survivor. He spoke about specific statistics of residential school impacts on the Gitxsan Huwilp and shared sensitive insights into his journey of healing. He challenged service providers to educate themselves on the 94 Calls to Action flowing from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Ardythe Wilson, manager of the support program, concluded the event with a reminder that all health care workers and service providers in the area are in positions where they can become partners of true reconciliation by working with, and supporting, the Gitxsan in developing a reconciliation model. The unveiling was a significant event and those in attendance were visibly moved.

The art was designed by Michelle Stoney, whose grandparents survived residential school and now actively promote Gitxsan history and culture. The crest represents the four clans of the Gitxsan Huwilp inside a mother and child, portraying the matrilineal foundation of the Gitxsan Nation. It recognizes those who suffered the abduction of their children and the intergenerational healing that continues to take place as a result of the long-reaching impacts of residential schools.

Vanstone shared:

It was an honour to help organize and be part of this event. The unveiling event provided an open forum for discussion and a step toward healing from the atrocities of the residential school system and the trauma sustained by First Nations in this community. As a health facility supporting the people of this community, we acknowledge that we have a lot of work left to do, however, we are confident in the collaborative relationships we are building with our community partners. The artwork hangs in our foyer as a symbolic reminder of the unbreakable bond between mother and child and the strength provided by the Wolf, Fireweed, Frog and Eagle clans of the Gitxsan people.

Verna Howard, Community Engagement Coordinator with the First Nations Health Authority, helped organize this event and said:

This event has made a big difference. It’s the first time we have seen our First Nations people and dancers involved in the hospital system. I could see on the elders’ faces the impact the cultural dance group and cultural recognition had, especially for those who reside there. The community members and residential school survivors, who have heard talk about reconciliation but have seen little action, saw this as a great step forward.

The event followed local Gitxsan protocols with Chief George Gray providing a formal welcome to the traditional Gitxsan territory and Elder Frances Sampson, opening the event with a prayer. Following the unveiling, there was a reception in the cafeteria where the Gitxsan Cultural dancers performed. Verna Howard and I spoke about the role of Aboriginal Health Improvement Committees and how Northern Health, First Nations Health Authority, and Indigenous communities and organizations are partnering to improve the health of Indigenous peoples in the north. Hereditary Chief Ray Jones, a residential school survivor, shared about the three constant companions in residential school: hunger, loneliness, and fear.

Cormac Hikisch, Health Services Administrator for the northwest area said,

I was grateful to be a part of this event – witnessing local residential school survivors share their stories and express appreciation for the button blanket as recognition of their suffering. It helped provide me with a better understanding of the real impacts to this tragic part of Canadian history, and more deeply realise the still current trauma that First Nations are working to move forward from.

This event was one step in Northern Health’s journey to honour and acknowledge local First Nations and making health care environments more culturally safe.

The women who created this blanket are Amanda Wesley, Theresa Stevens, Virginia Fowler, Rebecca Jagoda, Cindy Martin and Mae Martin with guidance from Marjorie Mowatt and Sadie Mowatt. Final touch-ups were provided by Lavender Macdonald.

Three women with button blankets.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Overcoming a vast northern landscape

Magazine cover

The latest issue of Healthier You profiles people, programs, and ideas that overcome northern B.C.’s vast geography.

There’s no denying that northern B.C. is enormous! In fact, the area served by Northern Health covers about two-thirds of the province!

This geography brings with it all sorts unique recreation opportunities and, for many people, the chance to walk directly out of your front door into stunning natural environments.

That said, the size and remoteness of northern B.C. can create challenges, too. In the latest issue of Healthier You magazine, we’re looking at programs, ideas, and people who are taking on this challenge head-on!

Learn how technology, travel programs, partnerships, and northern ideas are “shrinking geography”:

In addition to sharing stories about all sorts of unique programs that connect people to services across our region, the magazine also lets you know how to access these services.

Take a look through the latest issue of the magazine online or look for a hard copy of the magazine in local doctors’ offices, clinics, and Northern Health facilities near you! All past issues of Healthier You are also available online.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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