Healthy Living in the North

IMAGINE granting & cultivating community: The Burns Lake Community Garden

The courtyard and fire pit at the Burns Lake Community Garden.
The courtyard within the Burns Lake Community Garden, where people can gather around the fire to relax, socialize, and learn.

Healthy communities are much like gardens – they don’t just happen. They need to be tended, cultivated, and nurtured to grow to their full potential. Community gardens take this metaphor and turn it into real-world success stories. One of these tales of triumph is the Burns Lake Community Garden.

Like many communities in Northern BC, Burns Lake faces challenges with access to fresh, healthy foods. The Burns Lake Community Garden Society (BLCGS) seeks to address these concerns, and in Spring 2018 they applied for funding through the IMAGINE Community Grants program. The project was approved, and they got to work building an “edible environment” for all community members to enjoy.

In addition to planting a dozen fruit trees and a dozen fruit bearing bushes to provide access to local produce, the BLCGS wanted to create an environment for people to come together and enjoy the literal fruits of their labour. They envisioned a courtyard, surrounded by garden, where people could gather around a fire to relax, socialize, and learn. And it’s safe to say, that vision was realized.

Completed in late summer, the upgraded community garden has already hosted a successful workshop on traditional First Nations use of medicinal plants. The workshop brought together a diverse group of 20 individuals who used plants grown in the garden to explore medicinal applications and receive traditional knowledge. Further workshops are already in the works, and the courtyard has seen frequent use as a social gathering place as well.

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be a barrier to healthy living for residents of our Northern communities, but groups like the Burns Lake Community Garden Society are working to change that. By growing their communities, they make them stronger, healthier, and more resilient. With a new greenhouse installed in 2018 as well, the BLCGS is excited about an extended growing season and the opportunity to provide local food to their community year-round. The IMAGINE Community Grants program is proud to support this and other projects that make our communities healthy! 

Have an idea that could make your community a healthier place? The Spring 2019 intake of the IMAGINE Community Grants program opens March 1, 2019. Visit the IMAGINE Grant page today!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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Proactive health care helps keep Chetwynd mill workers healthy

Primary Care Nurses and the community paramedic from Chetwynd.
L – R: Charla Balisky, Chelsea Newman, and Jennifer Peterat (Primary Care Nurses) and Jaidan Ward (BCEHS – community paramedic and station chief for ambulance).

The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation estimates that a staggering 72% of Canadian men live unhealthy lifestyles. As well, most forest industry workers are male; for example, Canfor’s BC operations employ about 3,620 men, but only 500 women.

Taken together, these two facts suggest that taking health care directly to pulp mills and sawmills could be a great way to help men improve their health.

With that in mind, the interprofessional health care team from the Chetwynd Primary Care Clinic reached out to Canfor’s Chetwynd mill and West Fraser’s Chetwynd Forest Industries mill to offer on-site screening and health education.

Good health care can, of course, dramatically reduce sick time. As well, there are lots of resources in Chetwynd to help make it easier for people to stay healthy, including a pool, rec centre, parks, and trails.

The two mills were on board, and everyone involved was excited to start this initiative.

Accordingly, nurses and the community paramedic visited the two mills, where they checked workers’ blood pressure and blood sugar, and offered tips for healthy lifestyles.

As well, they handed out information packages containing condoms plus HealthLink BC handouts on a number of topics, including:

  • Prostate exams
  • Breast exams
  • Sleep
  • Flu shots
  • Addictions
  • Mental health

“This was a great way to educate people,” said Chelsea Newman, Primary Care Nurse. “Surprisingly, plenty of people didn’t know Chetwynd even had a clinic. As well, as it gave people the opportunity to look through the [HealthLink BC] information privately.”

The healthcare team was even able to catch a couple of potentially serious health concerns: they sent two mill workers to hospital, where early treatment should help them stay as healthy as possible.

The screening and education were well received: the two mills have asked the healthcare team to come back for more education sessions, and to continue helping them promote healthy lifestyles.

“Overall, I think we now have a better and stronger relationship with the Chetwynd forest industry. This has opened more opportunities for the community as a whole, like more education, less wait times at the clinic, more screening to help avoid hospitalizations, and so on,” said Chelsea. “I’m looking forward to the New Year and working closely with industry to continue the path of health and wellness based on the primary care model that Northern Health is striving for.”

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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Connecting a community one meal at a time

Two program volunteers at the Terrace health unit.
From left to right: Kristen Gogag and Linda Preston are Primary Care Assistants at the Terrace Health Unit and both help run the Terrace Meals on Wheels program.

Sometimes the smallest act can have the biggest impact. For Meals on Wheels volunteers in Terrace, that small act is delivering meals to seniors in the community. However, the benefits of the program go far beyond just filling someone’s belly.

The Terrace Meals on Wheels program

Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers hot and cold or frozen meals on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings each week (except stat holidays).

Linda Preston, a Northern Health Primary Care Assistant at the Terrace health unit, helps coordinate the program’s meal deliveries.

“It’s a program to deliver meals to people who are elderly, shut in, recovering from surgery, or have mobility or other issues. They can’t always get out and they feel safe in their home,” says Linda, who’s been part of the program since June 2018. “Having someone come to their home with a meal helps them.”

Kristen Gogag, also a Primary Care Assistant at the health unit, handles the administrative side of things. “I’ve helped out with the program for the last two and a half years. I help with questions as needed when people come into the health unit. Linda is more on the run,” says Kristen.

“Kristen is great to have at the health unit,” says Linda. “She can provide information to people and can give them the form to fill out or brochures.”

25 years of meals and smiles

According to the pair, their involvement is relatively brief compared to some program volunteers.

“The program has been running in Terrace for the last 25 years. We have some volunteers who have been a part of it since it started,” shares Kristen. “One of our volunteers, Arlene, has been doing it for 24 years. Another one of our volunteers, James, has been with us for 15-20 years.”

The program was started to help people stay at home rather than at the hospital, as well as help with nutrition and mental wellness – especially social connectedness. These have positive health impacts for both the client and program volunteers.

Who benefits from Meals on Wheels?

When posed this question, Linda was resolute: “Everyone benefits. The person getting the meal gets some contact and interactions. The family of the person receiving the meal benefits as they know their family member is getting a meal and having someone check in. This person can stay in their home rather than going into a facility.”

Some might wonder what the boundaries are for this service: “There are no boundaries,” laughs Kristen. “If we have volunteers, we deliver. If there’s not as many volunteers, it just might take a bit longer,” she adds. “We’re actually looking for more volunteers right now.”

Meals on Wheels graphic

It’s more than just a meal

For Linda, the most rewarding thing about being part of the program is the connection with those receiving the meals.

“I have a little conversation [with the meal recipient]. They get some contact and an interaction,” says Linda. “Sometimes they need me to read something for them like a calendar because they can’t see. They know we’re coming and it brightens up their day. The meal helps them too. The interaction for me, is the most rewarding.”

For Kristen, it’s getting to know the clients: “You see the same people and you get to know them. They like to show off their family and stuff. I’ve had a couple of clients pass away since I started and that’s hard but that’s life. I miss it now that I’m in more of an administrative role. Delivering, you get to be out in the community and visit. Now I do more of the paperwork side of it. Linda and I sit beside each other at the health unit so it’s nice to get updates from her on clients and know how a particular person is doing.”

Delivery volunteers needed!

Right now Meals on Wheels is looking for anyone who can help with meal delivery. Kristen advises that volunteers should have the following to qualify:

  • Personal vehicle
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Clean criminal record check
  • Clean driver’s abstract
  • Available at least one day per week

Linda stresses the importance of the program: “It isn’t just delivering meals – it’s touching the community.”

Pride tinges Kristen’s voice when she talks about it: “It’s a really good program. It gets people more involved in the community. Delivery volunteers might be lonely too. It helps them get out and help. They could be a widow – it gives them someone to visit. Or they could be retired and need something to do. Or they could be new to the community and want to get connected. We had two ladies recently who were new to Terrace – they just wanted to do something.”

The program doesn’t deliver on statuary holidays but Kristen emphasizes, “We never leave our clients hanging. We offer our clients the option of having extra meals delivered the day prior to the holiday.”

For more information or to volunteer

Please call Linda at the Terrace Health Unit at 250 631-4260.

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)

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Garry’s story: Coordinated team care + courage add up to a remarkable recipe for change

Headshot of Garry McPhee.

Garry McPhee, 50, is a member of the Tahltan First Nation in Northern British Columbia, which includes the communities of Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake. The Fort St. John resident had struggled with alcohol addiction, and also suffers from seizures. For much of the past 20 years, Garry has been homeless.

In June 2016, Northern Health’s Intensive Case Management Team (ICMT) became involved in Garry’s care. This story describes how the team was able to help Garry tap into his own inner strength and courage, and support him to abstinence, dignity, and independence.

The Intensive Case Management Team gets involved

The ICMT is a multidisciplinary team whose goal is to improve its clients’ health and social functioning. The team works with people who struggle with both substance use and mental illness. They provide case management and support navigating health and social services. The team also plays an important role in advocating with community services to ensure quality care for their clients. The team is made up of substance use specialists, life skills workers, and nurses.

The ICMT became part of Garry’s life in June 2016.

“Before:” A dangerous situation

At this point, Garry’s life was chaotic and his health was poor. He was drinking, his seizures became unmanageable, and he was in danger of becoming homeless again. During a 6-month period, Garry spent over 60 days in hospital due to his deteriorating health.

During the 113 days he wasn’t in hospital, Garry visited Emergency 190 times — an average of 1.6 times per day – often arriving by ambulance or RCMP. Fort St. John paramedics, emergency room staff, and RCMP officers all knew him on a first-name basis.

When ICMT became involved, Garry was living at the Northern Centre of Hope in Fort St. John, using his income assistance cheque to pay for room and board. Garry was soon housed in the Supportive Recovery Bed program, a housing program for homeless people who are struggling with substance use.

In the past Garry had tried residential treatment, but due to a negative experience, he was wary of attending again. He rarely saw his family doctor.

Building trust and setting the stage for change

When the ICMT started working with Garry, their first priority was to build a trusting relationship: they met him regularly, whether at the Northern Centre of Hope, the hospital, or on the street. With his participation, Garry and the team created a patient-centred plan to enhance his quality of care.

Sometimes their interactions with Garry would just be to say “Hi!” and ask about his day. At other times, the ICMT had a more varied role:

  • Helping Garry learn about being safe and healthy, despite his alcohol use.
  • Helping him manage his medications.
  • Attending medical appointments with him.
  • Arranging ongoing physical and mental health assessments.
  • Coordinating his care, including social services.
  • Ensuring he attended for regular lab work.

Together with emergency department staff, the ICMT team developed an emergency department care plan for Garry. This was to make sure that when Garry was in hospital, he’d get the best care possible.

The team also met often with Northern Centre of Hope staff to give them support around working with Garry, and to make sure he could keep his housing with them.

As well, ICMT encouraged Garry to:

  • See his family doctor regularly, and follow up with lab work when needed.
  • Visit community psychiatric services.

ICMT also collaborated with Garry’s family doctor and psychiatrist to ensure he was receiving the best care.

During ICMT’s involvement, there were significant changes. Garry had only 135 visits to the emergency department and spent only 20 days in hospital — a 29% reduction in emergency department visits, and a 67% reduction in hospital days.  

ICMT also helped Garry apply for BC’s Persons with Disabilities program (PWD). He successfully joined the program, giving him a more secure source of income.

Throughout, ICMT always respected Garry’s dignity and his right to make his own decisions. Garry was always the one in charge of any changes that were made.

Tragedy brings a fresh challenge

Garry is the oldest of five children, and he and his younger brother were very close. They lived together at the Northern Centre of Hope and spent most of their time together. The brothers were always looking out for each other.

But in July 2017, Garry’s brother passed away. This was a very difficult time for Garry and he thought about moving back to the Yukon, even though he knew that he would likely return to drinking. ICMT checked in with Garry regularly to offer any support they could.

Garry had been undecided about residential treatment for his alcohol use. His experience at the previous treatment centre wasn’t positive, and he had been worried about leaving his brother and mother behind in Fort St. John.

But after his brother died, Garry’s feelings changed. When he was offered a spot in a residential program in Prince George, he took the brave step of deciding to go. ICMT worked with the treatment centre in advance to make sure that Garry would have the best possible chance for success.

Before attending treatment, Garry stayed in the Prince George Detox Centre. There he attended recovery groups, met the staff, and heard other clients’ stories about recovery. After hearing many positive reviews, he was excited about going to the treatment centre. After he completed detox, Garry attended residential treatment for 42 days.

“After:” A new life of abstinence and dignity

Since finishing treatment and returning home to Fort St. John, Garry’s life has been a catalogue of independence, self-care, and confidence. It’s a stunning contrast to his old life. His experience is a testament to the support from the ICMT staff, and proof of this man’s courage and strength in making real change:

  • Garry has abstained from alcohol, and he’s been attending AA meetings. Instead of drinking, he spends time with friends at the Northern Centre of Hope or cooks meals with them, which they eat together while watching sports.
  • He attended the treatment centre’s refresher program in June 2018, and may attend again in June 2019.
  • He regularly visits the hospital to see his mother in Peace Villa or to say a quick “Hi and thank you” to emergency room staff.
  • He has been arranging his own medical appointments without ICMT’s help.
  • He’s currently renting a room in the high barrier housing program at the Northern Centre of Hope.
  • Garry is a caring and responsible pet owner, ensuring his 15+ goldfish are always fed and happy.
  • And, finally, Garry volunteers weekly at the Salvation Army clothing store in Fort St. John.

This inspiring story shows the massive difference that coordinated team care can make to a person’s life and health. It’s also a deeply humbling story that reminds all of us that it’s never too late for change.

Northern Health thanks the Intensive Case Management Team for their outstanding work with Garry, and most importantly, we thank Garry for sharing this uplifting story – we know it will inspire many others.

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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Spirit hits the ice for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation

Some members of the Northern Health Communications Team were at the CN Centre to cheer on the Prince George Cougars and raise money for the Spirit of the North Health Care Foundation!

The team brought along some health resources, including flu information and the Northern Health Connections Bus! Spirit the Caribou even stopped by for some high fives and to meet up with old buddies, Rowdy Cat and Santa Claus.

A big thank you to our volunteers who didn’t make the photos – Kaili Keough, Anne Scott, Cheona Edzerza, and Tianna Pius.

Check out some of the night in the photos below! 

3 guys holding a large presentation cheque.
That’s a big cheque! Northern Health raised over $700 for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation at the Cougars game! Pictured above, Caleb Wilson (Prince George Cougars), Curtis Mayes (Spirit of the North), and Robbie Pozer (Northern Health).
team members around a booth.
The Northern Health and Northern Health Connections booths. Lots of great resources were available here and chuck-a-pucks were sold to raise money for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation. From left to right: Fiona MacPherson, Jesse Priseman, Sanja Knezevic, Bailee Denicola, Anne Scott, Mike Erickson, Brandan Spyker, And Haylee Seiter.
spirit the caribou and santa.
Spirit the Caribou and his good buddy Santa Claus talking about how all the reindeer are doing up north.
spirit on a zamboni at a hockey game.
Spirit hopped on the Fanboni to throw out some stuffed animals to the Cougars faithful.
Spirit the caribou standing with his friend Robbie.
Spirit and his buddy Robbie, wondering where Rowdy Cat is?
spirit and rowdy cat hanging out with thumbs up.
Spirit and his buddy Rowdy Cat hanging out cheering on the Cougars!
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Finding wellness at work: tips from the Dawson Creek Health Unit wellness team


The Dawson Creek Health Unit wellness team works on different wellness related initiatives throughout the year.

“In order to take good care of patients, we need to take good care of ourselves.” This is just one reason why the Dawson Creek Health Unit wellness team exists. Lara Frederick, the North East Preventive Public Health Program Lead, is an active member of this team, however, she is only one member of what she describes as a diverse group.

“The team is made up of a variety of staff at the Dawson Creek Health Unit – from administrative to management like myself,” says Lara. “Membership is optional and members are encouraged to join when they can. We’re a pretty informal group. We aim to meet monthly – usually in a neutral space like the lunchroom. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen and that’s okay. Members contribute where they can.”

Wellness in action

According to Lara, the Health Unit wellness team works on different wellness related initiatives throughout the year. She shared a few of the initiatives the team has taken part in lately:

  • Jeans Day: “Basically each staff member can choose to pay $25 for the year to be able to wear jeans on a Friday (participation is optional). We put part of that money towards wellness initiatives like potlucks etc. and the other funds go towards local charities chosen by staff. We usually vote as a group and then make a donation to four chosen charities on behalf of the Dawson Creek Health Unit.”
  • Walk Across Canada: “Last summer the team took part in a physical activity challenge where team members were placed on randomized teams and tracked their steps all summer. Every 5,000 steps equalled one star. Everyone tracked their progress by adding stars to a confidential team tally. The challenge really helped encourage everyone to get out on lunches and breaks. People were doing laps around the building! At the end of the challenge,the teams and participants who walked the farthest won a prize.”
  • Secret Friend: “This September, interested staff members filled out a questionnaire with questions asking what they liked, what makes them smile, etc. Participants were then randomly assigned to another participant to be their secret friend. The goal of the secret friend is to anonymously do nice things for their buddy – things like leaving nice notes or little gifts in their work space, and even just making a bit of effort to get to know that person. With many new staff this is a great way to help everyone feel included. One staff member actually created a seek-and-find where the secret friend had to search out people in the health unit according to clues! It was a great way to help that new staff member get to know us all! The plan is to end secret friend with a potluck in December where everyone tries to guess who their buddy was, followed by a big reveal!”

Why work should be enjoyable

For Lara, being part of the wellness team is a no-brainer as she’s a self-described wellness junky! “It’s very important to me to enjoy my time at work and have fun,” she says. For her, the best way to do this is to get involved with other people at work.

Get involved with other people on your team! If you’re given the space by managers, work together to create a fun environment. Especially with staff turnover and challenges, it’s great to come to work and have fun things going on.”

Overcoming workplace wellness obstacles

According to Lara, there can be barriers to making wellness work at work, the biggest ones being management support, time, and money. She says their team is fortunate that their local management sees the value in having a healthy wellness team: “Being supported to meet together for 30-40 minutes in the lunchroom makes a big difference. We have a lot of people eager to make our workplace enjoyable. They want to help and be involved.”


Prizes from the team’s Walk Across Canada challenge last summer!

Lara says time will always be a barrier, especially in health care: “The thought is that time shouldn’t be taken away from patient care to work on wellness at work. However, in order to take good care of patients, we need to take good care of ourselves first.” She says the wellness team operates on staff donations and relying on that can be challenging. “Sometimes when we’re looking to get prizes made, we can get discounts from local shops-which helps lower the cost. Having this local support is great.”

Incorporating wellness in your workplace: words of advice

“It takes just one person with a desire to bring wellness to the workplace. That one person needs to seek out the support of fellow teammates as well as support from leadership.” As Lara says, prioritizing time can be tough and health care workers must take care of themselves: “Making the workplace more fun and enjoyable makes it healthier for everyone!”


Getting involved with other people on your team is a great way to make work more enjoyable. 

Are you currently part of a wellness team or looking to start one? The Dawson Creek Health Unit wellness team is always looking for more ideas or other teams to do challenges with! “We’d love to do a challenge between another health unit or community team. Please get in touch with us!” 

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)

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IMAGINE community grants win quality award!

Rock with the word IMAGINE on it.Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants were recognized by the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council as the winner in the Staying Healthy category. Since they started in 2009, IMAGINE has awarded $2.5 million to community organizations, Indigenous organizations, schools, municipalities, and other community partners to support projects which help prevent illness and injury, and reduce health care costs.

Grant applicants identify their communities’ health needs and propose projects which address them. Overall, more than 860 projects have been funded, including:

  • The Doig River First Nation bought walking shoes and pedometers to get their Elders moving and walking. More than half the Elders in their community participated in the walking program.
  • The Tumbler Ridge Community Garden and Composting Society helped 125 elementary school students and their teachers grow vegetables at the community garden. Students not only grew food for their families, but also got in some physical activity by walking 1.5 km between their school and the garden.
  • The Fort Nelson Mental Health & Addictions Services Advisory Committee hosted a two-day event to raise awareness around mental health and health care services available in the Northern Rockies region.

In 2017, 49 communities in the Northern Health region received grants, more than double the total of 24 funded in 2009. In 2016, Northern Health introduced a map on the IMAGINE webpage showing all the community projects that have received grants, plus details on the projects.

The success of the IMAGINE Community Grants shows that when communities can identify not only their challenges, but potential solutions, they can keep people in their communities healthy. For more information on the IMAGINE grants, visit their webpage.

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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“DementiAbility” approach helps make Terraceview Lodge feel like home

Activity bins for people with dementia at the Terraceview Lodge in Terrace.

Some activities for people with dementia at the Terraceview Lodge in Terrace. As a part of the DementiAbility initiative, these activities are designed to focus on maximizing abilities, instead of focusing on disabilities.

How do you define “home”? One definition was suggested by Northern Health Occupational Therapist Cheryl Block: “It’s the place where you make a genuine contribution, where you’re a part of what’s going on. That’s what feels like home.”

Cheryl, who works in Terraceview Lodge, is helping implement the DementiAbility initiative, which she says has been positively received by residents and their families.

DementiAbility, which is based on the Montessori educational philosophy, is an approach to caring for people with dementia that focuses on maximizing abilities instead of focusing on disabilities.

“We really work to prepare the environment so people can be successful,” says Cheryl. An example is using signage on walls to tell residents how to find the dining room or the activity room. “This can really decrease anxiety and help people feel, ‘Hey, I can be independent, I know where I’m going’,” says Cheryl.

A senior sorting silverware at Terraceview Lodge.

Sorting silverware is an example of an activity available at Terraceview Lodge that gives residents the chance to carry out day-to-day activities to help care for their home. Other examples include arranging flowers, folding socks, reading books, and trying on jewelry.

Another aspect of the DementiAbility approach is giving residents the chance to carry out day-to-day activities to help care for their home, Terraceview Lodge.

“We already have some residents who love to fold the aprons we use at mealtimes, and others who tend our plants,” says Cheryl.  “You can ask them, ‘I have this load of laundry that needs folding, would you be willing to help me?’ – and someone who isn’t interested in a more formal workout can still get some of the same range of motion and strength benefits — and also with a sense of purpose.”

Cheryl has challenged other departments at Terraceview to come up with activities they could involve residents in on a regular basis. “It’s been really neat, the response we’ve got from the residents — the smiles that we get — it’s that sense of purpose and that sense of belonging,” she says.

Another type of activity that has been a success at Terraceview Lodge is reading groups, where residents take turns reading a large-print book aimed at their age group page by page.

“I have to say, this is something that gives me goosebumps,” says Cheryl. “We’ve seen residents who are generally nonverbal and don’t interact with others come to these reading groups, read everything clearly and concisely and then participate in discussion group. It’s really neat to see how allowing residents to use the abilities that they have, can brighten their day and the day of anyone who interacts with them.”

Cheryl notes that it’s been a team effort to make DementiAbility a success at Terraceview Lodge. “The team has come together to make this a success,” she says, “all the way from Quality Improvement at the regional level supporting us; Brad, the manager here, has been extremely supportive and enthusiastic; and all the departments, from Maintenance to Dietary, Housekeeping, and Nursing. Everyone is really wanting to be part of something that’s good for the residents — it’s ultimately all about the residents and what’s best for them.”

With the help of Northern Health’s Quality Improvement department, Block is working on spreading the DementiAbility approach throughout Terraceview Lodge. “It’s exciting to see where this will go,” she says.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Food Security, Part 1: What is household food insecurity?

Today is World Food Day, a day to promote awareness of food security around the globe. In northern BC, almost 1 in 5 households struggle to afford a basic, nutritious diet. When I first read this statistic, I was shocked. In a country as resource-rich as Canada, how is it that 17% of northerners either don’t have enough food, or worry about running out?

Defining food security

Let’s start by defining food security. Simply put, it is the ability to access enough safe and healthy food, at all times. It includes many things such as:

  • Access to food stores and markets
  • Access to land to produce food
  • Getting enough food to support a healthy life
  • Maintaining a healthy food system

But walking through food stores in many northern communities, we don’t usually see empty shelves. If there is so much food available in our stores and markets, how is it that some households worry about running out?

Food security and income

The main reason is that some households do not have enough income to buy food. This is called “household food insecurity” (HFI): when a household worries about, or does not have enough money to purchase healthy food. Since starting my role as food security lead for Northern Health, this has been one of my biggest learnings: household income is the biggest predictor of HFI.

But it’s not just that food can be expensive. Rather, it’s that some household incomes are not enough to support a healthy diet. In fact, households on a fixed income (e.g. social assistance), or who work minimum wage jobs, are at the highest risk of being food insecure. For those on a fixed income, almost half – about 44% – of their income goes to food, compared to 15% of the household income of higher wage earners. This 44% doesn’t include other costs associated with food (e.g. travel to food stores), nor does it include housing and childcare. It’s a tough situation for many households.

Food security is a determinant of health

Given that many households struggle to buy food, it’s no wonder that HFI is a serious public health issue in BC. But why, exactly? To answer this, let’s take a step back and look at what impacts health. There are many things that we don’t often think about, things that go beyond food or lifestyle “choices.” These are social factors, such as where we are born or how much money we make, and they can impact health long before we’re sick. They are often conditions over which we don’t have much control.

Food security’s impact on health may seem obvious: eating nutritious foods can help keep you healthy. But, while this can be true, having enough money to buy food in the first place can have more of an impact on health than food choices alone. In fact, there are many chronic health conditions that are connected to HFI, including mental health.

Addressing household food insecurity

Fortunately, there are many determinants of health that can be addressed through policies and programs. Advocacy initiatives can also inspire change; for example, today is World Food Day, and tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Here in BC, one tool we use is monitoring food costs over time, to help determine the household income required to purchase a basic, healthy diet. The Food Costing in BC 2015 report showed that food costs are on the rise. The 2017 data will be available soon; how will the results compare? Stay tuned for the next blog posts in this series:

To learn more about HFI in northern BC, check out this helpful infographic.

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is experienced in working with groups across the lifecycle, within BC and internationally, to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking, and travelling. She loves exploring the North!

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Active school travel planning for improved health and better grades

The transition from summer to autumn, with back to school and back to regular routines, is always a busy time. Hopefully you’ve managed to find time for outdoor activity, taking advantage of the evening light while we still have it, and not just hiding inside, staring at screens.

Stats on the rates of active transportation in children.Increasingly, research is telling us a few disturbing facts:

  • We’re not active enough to reap the numerous health benefits associated with being physically active.
  • We are spending far too much time being sedentary (seated or lying down, often staring at a screen), so much so that we are at greater risk of chronic disease.

These stats apply to people of all ages, but with a new school year underway, I’d like to focus on what can be done to improve the situation for our next generation, specifically through the promotion of active transportation to and from school.

The physical activity grades are in

According to the latest ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, only about a third (35%) of Canadian children and youth are active enough to get the 60 minutes of heart-pumping activity they need each day, landing us the marginal grade of D+ in Overall Physical Activity.  The bad news doesn’t end there; our grade in Active Transportation is a D-, meaning that only 21% of 5-19 year olds in Canada regularly use active modes of transportation, while nearly two thirds use inactive modes, such as being dropped off by a personal vehicle or bus.

Physical activity leads to better brain health

NH Mascot, Spirit the Caribou, walking to school with Gloria Fox.We’re well aware that there are many reasons that children and youth should be active, but now we have yet another incentive to consider: brain health! Along with this year’s Report Card came an Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health in Children and Youth, stating, “For better brain health, all children and youth should be physically active on a regular basis. In addition to physical health benefits, physical activity also improves cognition, brain function and mental health.” (ParticipACTION, 2018). So, now that we know for sure that physical activity is not only good for the physical body but also the brain, it stands to reason that kids who are regularly active will be better set up for success in school.

Promoting active transportation, or people-powered transportation such as walking, cycling, or wheeling, has the potential to make a positive impact in many ways:

  • Increased daily physical activity.
  • Improved overall health.
  • Improved mood and focus.
  • Improved cognition and problem-solving skills.
  • Decreased air pollution as a result of less vehicle reliance.

This fall, consider how active school travel might work for your family or local school

  • HASTe BC (Hub for Active School Travel) has a handy online Active and Safe Routes to School Toolkit that presents nine different ideas for ways to incorporate more active transportation into daily school life; this way, you can choose the option(s) that will work best for you and your school!
  • Another option is Parachute Canada’s Walking School Bus Event Guide; it’s easy to follow and quick to implement.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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