Healthy Living in the North

Community paramedics partner with Northern Health communities to increase access to care

Community paramedics are changing patient care in some communities in Northern Health. They’re helping increase access to basic health care services in non-urgent settings, in patients’ homes, or in the community. Throughout Northern Health, 26 communities have community paramedics helping patients.

Patients can see a community paramedic if they’re referred to them by their doctor or health care team, or when they’re discharged from the hospital.

Community paramedics are employed by BC Emergency Health Services, but they work very closely with the teams of health care professionals in the community.

In Fort St. James, the “biggest positive is she [the community paramedic] works really well and has a positive relationship with the First Nations bands. She’s a great liaison for information and understanding their culture,” says Cathy York, team lead for Fort St. James.

The health care team and the community paramedic in Fort St. James are encouraged to share information and they all have a great working relationship. The community paramedic does a lot with the First Nations bands on naloxone training for overdose prevention, and also educates people on diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease. She’s also starting to work with local schools to do naloxone training.

Fraser Lake saw benefits when the first community paramedic started. At the time, they were short on nurses, so it was difficult for them to have eyes on some of the people they were concerned about in the community.

“We’re so thrilled to have the program start here, and the paramedics are such an asset to the team,” says Lora Lee Pacheco, team lead for Fraser Lake.

The community paramedic attends team meetings (called “huddles”) in Fraser Lake, which has helped close loops and encourage open communication. If there’s a concern with a patient, the community paramedic will bring it up to the team and sometimes suggest that the physician pay a home visit. They’re proactive in their care and address people’s health concerns early on.

“For example, a man used to come in every second week to the doctor’s office and was going to the hospital once a month. Now, because of the home visits of the community paramedic, he hasn’t been in the hospital since July,” says Lora Lee. “It just goes to show how important it is to check in on people and how far this program goes to prevent hospital admissions.”

Fraser Lake’s community paramedic has also taken over naloxone and CPR training in the community itself, as well as in surrounding First Nations communities. To save time, she’s also spending 1-2 hours a week at the Autumn Services Centre to follow up with people she would normally do a home visit with.

In Burns Lake, the community paramedic started only a few months ago. Since then, the team has found that he’s able to catch concerns with patients earlier on than if they waited to see their doctor. To help prevent crises, he’ll bring patients with any concerns directly to the health care team – another great example of how community paramedics are partnering with Northern Health and the local community health care teams to provide better patient care.

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.

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Peritoneal dialysis and home hemodialysis are helping people with kidney disease have more freedom in their lives

A home hemodialysis educator shows a patient one of the machines.

Dialysis patient Jerry Beck and Home Hemodialysis Educator Susan Rawlings. The dialysis machine pictured is one of the two types of home hemodialysis machines available to patients.

For many, dialysis can feel like a loss of independence because of the ongoing need for hospital appointments and time spent away from home. The availability of peritoneal dialysis (PD) and home hemodialysis allows many people to be involved in their daily treatments and bring back a sense of freedom to their self-management and care.

“I truly believe in the benefits of people being able to do this at home. At first it can sound complicated, but when people start training even after the first day, their anxiety goes down and they feel very proud of themselves,” says Karen Walkey, Patient Care Coordinator, UHNBC Peritoneal Dialysis. “It’s very doable and very learnable, and I am very proud of our patients who are willing to take this on and do such a good job with it and continue living their lives.”

A Peritoneal Dialysis system and diagram of a kidney.

Peritoneal Dialysis twin bag system with all the supplies needed to do a dialysis exchange.

PD is a type of dialysis that is done at home on a daily basis. It involves having a small tube in the abdomen and uses the lining of the abdomen (called the peritoneum) and a cleaning solution to clean the blood. The solution absorbs waste and fluid from blood, using the peritoneum as a filter.

There are many health and lifestyle benefits of PD that help patients combat the challenges they face living with kidney failure. PD treatments can be done in any place that is clean and dry, allowing a person more freedom to work, travel, or do other activities they enjoy without worrying about scheduling dialysis appointments. And, importantly, patients have the opportunity to improve their quality of life by participating in their care plans.

For those patients who are unable to do PD, home hemodialysis may also be an option. In hemodialysis, a machine and a special filter called a dialyzer are used to clean the blood, with the dialyzer acting as an artificial kidney. This requires having an in home hemodialysis machine.

Living outside of an area that has a dialysis unit can sometimes mean a patient having to move out of their community; with home hemodialysis, patients are able to stay in their communities and receive the treatment they need.

Two Home Hemodialysis Educators posing.

Angela Robinson (left) and Susan Rawlings, Home Hemodialysis Educators at the Northern Independent Dialysis Unit at Parkwood Mall in Prince George.

“We want to keep our patients in their communities. Instead of hemodialysis running their lives, we want to fit hemodialysis into the lives they already have,” says Angela Robinson, Home Hemodialysis Educator.

Lifestyle benefits of this mobile dialysis therapy and flexible schedule allow for most patients to perform therapy while at home, at work, at school, or on vacation. Patients can spend more time with loved ones, doing the things they enjoy.

Northern Health has the highest percentage of independent hemodialysis patients in the province, with 34% of dialysis patients on PD and 13.3% on home hemodialysis. These figures are well above the suggested provincial amounts in communities such as Prince Rupert, Fort Nelson, Quesnel, Prince George, Dawson Creek, and many others in between.

For more information and resources on independent dialysis, visit the BC Renal Agency website.

Sanja Knezevic

About Sanja Knezevic

Sanja is a communications advisor with Northern Health’s medical affairs department and is based in Prince George. She moved to Canada in 1995 from former Yugoslavia to Fort Nelson where she lived for a few years before moving to Prince George in 2000. Sanja enjoys photography, curling up with a good book, cooking and spending time with her friends and family.

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On-site health clinic provides a range of services to students at UNBC

Kara Hunter posing at UNBC.University students are in a unique situation. For most, it’s the first time they’ve lived away from home. On top of that, they’re trying to navigate their studies, and most don’t have a local health care provider. Simple health concerns can become more serious while they try to figure out where to get help.

To help keep students healthy, the on-site Health Services Clinic at the University of Northern British Columbia’s (UNBC) main campus in Prince George has a strong team of health care professionals that can meet most student health care needs:

  • Counsellors
  • General practitioner physician
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Occupational therapist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Registered nurses
  • Registered psychiatric nurse

Among the services the clinic provides are physical and mental health assessments and treatment, immunizations, health care for sexual and reproductive issues, and chronic disease management.

One of the dedicated team members is Nurse Practitioner Kara Hunter, who has worked at Northern Health for over 20 years. Most of her career was spent as a registered nurse in critical care. After completing her master’s degree, she starting work as a nurse practitioner in 2015.

“In this clinic, we can make a huge impact with students and their overall wellness,” says Kara. “Typically each provider sees between 15 and 20 students a day. On extremely busy days we can see up to 25. Appointments are scheduled, and twice a week we offer drop-in times.”

Due to the recent opioid crisis, the team has devoted a lot of time to training students to use naloxone kits. Kits were distributed to students so they could administer the drug to anyone potentially overdosing.

“This past September and October, we trained over 100 students and residence advisors on how to administer naloxone,” says Kara. “We want to make sure that if someone does overdose, students know how to help.”

Another area Kara works in is sexual and reproductive health: “In 2019, we’re trialing group appointments, specifically targeting contraceptive counselling and the use of intrauterine (IUD) devices,” she says.

There’s no limit on the number of students that can attend each group appointment. Students who want more information after the group appointment can book a follow-up appointment at the clinic.

Thanks to the on-site clinic, UNBC students have one less thing to worry about when they arrive in Prince George. For more information, visit the Wellness Centre Health Services website.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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Fort St. John Hospital and other NH facilities win outstanding awards in lab services

The lab technologist team standing with the certificate awards.
Medical Lab Technologists Matthew Coburn, Laurel Coburn (related by marriage), and Carlee Bryson with Fort St. John Hospital’s three awards.

Congratulations to Fort St. John Hospital staff for recently receiving three outstanding achievement awards from the BC Provincial Blood Coordinating Office.

“The achievements are a testament to the donors of British Columbia, that our labs in Northern Health are great stewards, for their selfless act in helping others through their donation of blood products,” says Julius Valido, Quality Resource Technologist at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) in Prince George.

The recognition is related to the hospital’s efficient usage of blood products, donor red cells, and IV immune globulin (IVIG).

“It is also a recognition that Northern Health is motivated to reduce the unnecessary cost to healthcare,” says Julius, “and to the public sector by diminishing inventory wastage and transportation of products to and from the suppliers and within lab sites.”

The three outstanding achievement awards are:

  • Award for Outstanding Achievement in 0% Red Cell Outdate Rate: The lab used all donor red cells before they expired. Red cells have an average shelf-life of 45 days.
  • Award for Outstanding 0% Expiry Rate of all Factor products: The lab used all blood products and derivatives, such as coagulation factors, before they expired.
  • Award for Outstanding 0% IVIG Discard and Outdate Rate: The lab used all IV immune globulin (IVIG) before its expiration date. IVIG is produced from healthy human blood to help fight infections for patients with a weakened immune system; and it’s very expensive, at $65 per gram. Some patients need 1000-2000 grams. The lab not only used the product before the expiration date, but it also handled it with care during shipping and receiving, and placed it in temperature controlled storage before being used for various approved conditions other than weakened immune systems.

Several other Northern Health facilities won awards and honourable mentions (see below). Keep an eye out for a full story in the upcoming Northern Way magazine. We’ll take an in-depth look at what these awards mean to Northern Health patients and how the lab teams achieved these amazing results.

Congratulations to everyone!

Honourable Mention for Achievement of a Red Cell Outdate Rate Below 1%

  • Prince Rupert Regional Hospital
  • University Hospital of Northern BC

Award for Outstanding 0% Expiry Rate of all Factor Products

  • Bulkley Valley District Hospital
  • Dawson Creek and District Hospital
  • Fort St. John Hospital
  • G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital
  • Mills Memorial Hospital
  • Prince Rupert Regional Hospital
  • University Hospital of Northern BC

Award for Outstanding 0% IVIG Discard and Outdate Rate

  • Bulkley Valley & District Hospital
  • Fort St. John Hospital
  • G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital
  • Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre
  • Mills Memorial Hospital
  • Prince Rupert Regional Hospital
  • St. John Hospital
  • Stuart Lake Hospital
  • Wrinch Memorial Hospital
Brandan Spyker

About Brandan Spyker

Brandan works in internal communications at NH. Born and raised in Prince George, Brandan started out in TV broadcasting as a technical director before making the jump into healthcare. Outside of work he enjoys spending quality time and travelling with his wife and daughter. He’s a techie and loves to learn about new smartphones and computers. He also enjoys watching and playing sports.

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Rikki Furmanek

“We also are able to accommodate surrounding areas such as Fort Nelson, Chetwynd, Taylor – people don’t have to travel very far, especially in the wintertime, so that’s great.”

In this video, Rikki Furmanek, Northern Health X-ray Technician, mentions the benefits that a new MRI machine brings to her hometown, Fort St. John, and what it does for the Northeast!

You can also see how the MRI machine was installed, which includes a big lift through a window at the hospital.

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Shyr Chui and Danita Braun

“Fifteen minutes later I got a call from the MRI booking office, and they told me they wanted me in the next day in the evening… and I was dumbfounded, because I was expecting it to be a 6 week wait for this appointment!”

In this video, we hear from patient Danita Braun, who was thrilled to hear the wait time of her MRI appointment was drastically cut down. Getting the MRI done sooner also meant a change in her care plan which she was thrilled to hear!

Also featured, Shyr Chui, Northern Health Radiologist, mentions how scanning hours have also changed, adding evening times and weekends!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Marina Downs and Margaret Kostyshyn

“This has increased patient happiness, and the morale of our technologists.”

In this video, Marina Downs, Northern Health Diagnostic Imaging Manager, speaks on how the addition of the MRI machine in Terrace has reduced patient wait times and travel, directly affecting the experience of both staff and patients.

Margeret Kostyshyn, a recent UHNBC patient, mentions how her MRI experience was “very positive,” and how the reassuring staff took away her initial fears of the process.

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Northern Health MRI Improvements: Ken Winnig and Karen Eldridge

“About a year ago, we were only able to do about 7,500 MRIs. Today, we’re on target to do over 13,000.”

There’s some pretty exciting MRI news circulating throughout the North! Since the installation of the two new machines in Terrace and Fort St. John, and a new replacement unit in Prince George, the northern region has seen some pretty incredible results.

In this video, Ken Winnig, Northern Health Regional Director of Diagnostic Services, explains the benefits of the new machines. Additionally, hear from Karen Eldridge, a recent patient, who’s been positively impacted!

Thanks to additional provincial investments in MRI services across the province, Northern Health is expected to increase the number of MRIs performed by 70% over last year, and an additional 102 MRI hours of operation have been added (between the Fort St. John, Prince George, and Terrace MRI locations).

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Thermometers help keep kids out of Dease Lake emergency room

Two staff holding thermometers.
L-R: Amy Bolton, Dease Lake Pregnancy Outreach Coordinator and Anna Fritch, Northern Health Nurse.

When someone goes to the emergency room with a cold or a mild fever, they often end up using some of the time and care needed for people with more urgent health concerns.

Anna Fritch, a nurse in Dease Lake, noticed this trend and decided to do something about it. Her goal was to cut down on the number of unnecessary emergency room visits.

She realized that many people who come to the emergency room don’t have basic health information on how to treat minor illnesses at home.

“I thought, ‘What do I know about taking care of a cold?’ I learned what to do from my mother as a child and how she self-treated us at home,” Anna says.

She realized one problem is that people don’t know where to get health information. Another problem is that people call emergency saying that their child has a fever, but when asked what their temperature is, parents respond that they don’t own a thermometer.

Anna works closely with the pregnancy outreach coordinator in Dease Lake, Amy Bolton. They meet a few times a month to collaborate and share information. When Anna mentioned the issues to Amy, Amy was immediately on board, offering to use some of her budget to buy thermometers.

Anna and Amy now wanted to work out how to give out the thermometers, but also educate people at the same time. They tried to do monthly pre-natal education sessions, but even though Dease Lake is a small town, the turnout wasn’t great.

The next step was to share the information with Dease Lake residents. At a community health fair, Anna provided thermometers, HealthLink BC info on how to take temperatures (children and adults), Northern Health info on treating a child’s fever at home, and a pamphlet from BC Children’s Hospital.

Now, Anna has the same information in her office, along with the thermometers. When a family or an elder comes to the emergency room, she takes the opportunity to educate them about fevers and gives them a thermometer. She teaches them what a fever represents, when to be worried about it, and what to do.

This education “makes a fever less frightening and puts a bit more agency into the hands of families,” says Anna. “People tend to think the moment they’re unwell, there’s nothing they can do.”

“It’s a willingness to partner and support people, but it’s also ‘here’s the tool you need and how to use it.’ These are the situations in which you can help yourself,” says Anna.

Anna says that now, when people call the emergency room to say they’re coming in with a feverish child, they can attach a number to their concern because they’re using a thermometer.

“There’s a difference between hot to the touch and clinically having a fever,” Anna says. “When I did the teachings, I tried to emphasize that ‘I’m giving you the thermometer because when you call me, I want us to be talking about the same thing.’”

Anna and her nursing colleagues are still working on increasing people’s confidence to care for family members themselves. But now, they can objectively measure temperature, which gives Anna and the other nursing staff a talking point to use when they call or come into emergency.

This is a great example of how a simple tool and a little education can help reduce emergency room visits.

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.

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Team health care shines in Dawson Creek – because a patient spoke up

The outside of Dawson Creek and District Hospital.

When interprofessional health care teams, emergency rooms, and patients all work together, the result can be great health care. A case in point: a recent story from Dawson Creek.

While he was at the Dawson Creek emergency room for another concern, a patient — let’s call him “Fred”* — asked for a hepatitis B vaccine. Fred also made sure the nurse knew that the interprofessional health care team was involved in his care. This was a key step in ensuring he got the best care.

The emergency department then called the health care team to see if they could get the vaccine for Fred right away, so he wouldn’t have to book a separate appointment.

The answer from the interprofessional health care team was “Yes!” A public health resource nurse working with the team took the vaccine across the street to the emergency department, then helped the ER nurse give it to Fred.

Note: Given that Fred has unique health concerns, this approach made sense for his specific case – but normally, people who need immunizations should book them through their local health unit.

“This spoke to the client engaging in his own health care,” said Deanna Thomas, Manager of Community Services in Dawson Creek. “It shows the value of building relationships with clients so they feel empowered to speak up.”

Patients are a huge part of the solution in health care – high-fives to Fred for making sure the emergency department had all the facts, and to the emergency department and the health care team for their collaboration and quick response!

*Not his real name – identifying details have been changed.

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.

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