Healthy Living in the North

Northern Health staff and physicians volunteer at the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships

Laura Elsenheimer offering a tissue to Birgit Skarstein.
Laura Elsenheimer, Chief Technologist at the UHNBC Laboratory, offers a tissue to Birgit Skarstein, who had just finished the middle distance cross-country sit ski race. Skarstein, known as “the smile of Norway” won bronze. The athlete has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2009 as the result of a swimming accident in Malaysia.

World-class athletes are being showcased as Prince George hosts the 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships (WPNSC) February 15 – 24 at the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, and Northern Health (NH) staff and physicians are helping make it happen. 

Many NH staff and physicians are volunteering at the event, donating their time at the Medical and Anti-Doping site, Timing, the Volunteer Centre, Security, the Start/Finish areas, out on the course, and more. As well, Dr. Jacqui Pettersen, a neurologist with the Northern Medical Program, is the Lead for Medical Services.

The event, attended by athletes from 17 countries, is the second biggest for para Nordic sports after the Paralympics. Spectators are welcome – there’s no charge to watch these amazing world-class athletes in action.

Elisabeth Veeken, Volunteer Coordinator for the event, was invited to get involved by the local organizing committee. 

Cheryl Moors helping prep the finish area at the para nordic skiing championships.
Early morning volunteer: Cheryl Moors, RN, Interim CPL on Surgery North at UHNBC, helps prep the finish area on Day 1 of racing.

“I was honoured to be asked. If I’d known better, I would have run screaming the other way!” says Elisabeth, a casual in Recreation Therapy at Northern Health. “It’s a large and time-consuming job, but one that I know will bring me, and I hope others, great satisfaction, when all is said and done.”

Other volunteers concurred. Lory Denluck, an accountant in Northern Health’s Physician Compensation department, enjoyed the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help at such an exciting event being held in my community.”

Elisabeth Veeken standing with Collin Cameron.
Elisabeth Veeken, Volunteer Coordinator for the event, with Collin Cameron, gold medallist for Canada for the men’s sit ski sprints.

Dawn Taylor, a cook at Northern Health’s Rainbow Lodge, wanted to volunteer because she’s a lifelong cross-country skier. “Plus, I’ve also volunteered for Special Olympics and the Caledonia Club for many years,” she says.

And nursing student Melanie Martinson says it gave her “an amazing chance to watch world-class athletes competing in our own home town. It’s so rare to have such a high calibre of athletics in Prince George that it was an opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up!”

As for Elisabeth, she’s a big supporter of the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club. Volunteering at the WPNSC was a perfect way for her to give back to the club.

“I’m so excited to be part of this amazing event!” 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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Our People: Spotlight on Cheryl Dussault

Cheryl Dussault sitting at her desk.

Congratulations to Cheryl Dussault for 30 years of service at Northern Health! Cheryl is a nurse practitioner in Prince George. She works at the CNC Health and Wellness Centre and for UNBC Health Services, two clinics that provide primary health care to students.

Why did you choose your career?

As far as I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse. I come from a family of nurses and that’s what I had my mind set on. I came to Prince George from a small community to do the nursing diploma at the College of New Caledonia. I thrive on providing patient care and working in that kind of environment. Eventually, I wanted to further my education and becoming a nurse practitioner allowed me to do that and stay closely connected to patient care. I graduated as a nurse practitioner in 2015 from the program at UNBC.

How did you end up at NH?

There are different opportunities at Northern Health as a nurse. My plan was to return to my hometown when I graduated from the nursing program, but I realized I liked working in the hospital in Prince George. I wanted to get more experience, and 30 years later, here I am. The community definitely grew on me.

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into your kind of career?

If you enjoy being challenged, becoming a nurse practitioner is for you! It was quite a shift for me after being a nurse in the hospital for the majority of my career. Being a nurse practitioner, I have more autonomy and it’s very rewarding. I feel part of a larger community and still get to be part of patient care improvements. I like that I see people now to try to prevent them from going to the hospital. At the clinics at CNC and UNBC, we see a lot of students from other communities that don’t have a family doctor or nurse practitioner in town, and we deal with a lot of international students. They bring a different set of challenges because of language barriers and being from different cultures.

What do you like about living in Prince George?

I like that there’s a variety of services available and that it’s a very welcoming community. When I moved here for my schooling, I was overwhelmed by how nice people are here. There are also lots of resources for people raising a family. It’s large enough so you have what you need, but also close to bigger cities.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside work?

I’m very family oriented, I have two young grandsons. And I like to help at the local soup kitchen.

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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Back to Basics

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

What makes some youth thrive? What makes some youth struggle? Why do some youth flourish in the face of adversity while others grab on to higher risk behaviours and means to cope? While these questions are very common, their answers are very complicated and difficult to address. What we know for sure is that both youth and adults have some power to impact their mental health.

One of the ways we can foster positive mental health is by building a wellness plan that really has a back to basics approach. Key pieces include nutrition, sleep, social connectedness, and delayed or safer substance use practices – all of which we can empower youth to consider in their day-to-day lives. 

Nutrition

Adolescence is a time of significant growth. Youth need to fuel their bodies and minds to feel their best. Nutrition education and food skills training are a great way to engage youth in learning about fueling their body and how the foods we eat impact the way we feel both physically and mentally. Taking some time to build breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans into the schedule can have big impacts. Including youth in the planning and preparing of meals can support skill building and provide opportunity for connection.   

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for both physical and mental health. The amount of growing and developing underway in the body and minds of youth requires a great deal of rest. The Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines suggest youth ages 5 to 13 should strive for 9 to 11 hours of sleep, while youth ages 14 to 17 should aim for 8 to 10 hours. You know you are getting enough sleep when you wake feeling rested and ready to take on the day. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges with concentration at school, more aggressive or agitated behaviour, and even avoidance of usual activities. 

Social Connection

Youth benefit from social connection to peers, family, schools, and communities. Connectedness that remains intact as they move through the years help them gain a sense of self-identify. It can be valuable for teens to have different groups of friends (e.g. engaging with sports, arts, and education programs), so that if one peer group becomes inaccessible, there are still people around for youth to relate to.  Establishing connection to people and spaces that are diversity-welcoming and substance free goes a long way to support mental health and preventing onset of substance use. 

Substance Use

A primary piece of substance use prevention is delaying uptake of substance use by youth until later in life. We know that the earlier youth begin to use substances, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Ensuring access to drug education, engaging in/with activities and environments that are diversity-welcoming and substance free, and have access to a full continuum of substance use services is beneficial. Youth should also consider their intake of caffeine or energy drinks along with alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco and consider safer ways to consume if substances are part of their lives. Reducing the amount of substance use, the frequency of use, and finding lower risk methods of consumption, using less potent products will all contribute to a harm reduction approach to substance use.

Resources

For more information on promoting positive mental health in youth, or to find information on specific mental health and substance topics, please visit Kelty Mental Health online at or Here to Help BC at or the Canadian Mental Health Association of BC.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Our People: Spotlight on Kara Hunter

Kara Hunter in a snowy outdoors.

Kara Hunter is a nurse practitioner (NP) in Prince George and has been working for Northern Health (NH) for 20 years – congratulations to Kara on two decades of service! She works at the CNC Health and Wellness Centre and for UNBC Health Services. These clinics provide primary health care to students.

Why did you choose your career?

I fell into nursing as it was convenient and offered at the College of New Caledonia, in Prince George. I never intended to be a nurse, but loved caring for people once I started. Nursing has allowed me to travel the world, balancing family and professional life. Through my years of nursing I have worked surgical, internal medicine, emergency and intensive care.

In my years of critical care nursing, I was discouraged by the sheer amount of preventable chronic disease that crossed my path. In 2010, I started graduate studies at Athabasca University to become a Nurse Practitioner. My goal is to reduce the burden of chronic disease by engaging people to become owners and advocates of their personal health. I currently work full time for NH as an NP.

What’s your favourite thing to do outside work?

Travelling and spending time with my family engaged in some form of outdoor activity – hiking, skiing, camping. Our most recent adventure took us to Australia to live abroad for a year.

How did you end up at NH?

I applied to NH as my husband had work in Prince George. In 1998, I was hired as a casual RN on the surgical wards.

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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Our People: Shelley Bondy

“I feel like I have a purpose here.” Find out what makes Prince Rupert so special for Shelley Bondy (Manager, Perioperative Services and Registered Nurse).

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital of Northern BC goes paperless

Two staff standing with a tall stack of chart copies.
Melanie Baker (left) and Teresa Ward with 5 weeks’ worth of chart copies.

Each month, the busy Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the hospital in Prince George prints out thousands of pages of test results and patient charts – 5,500 pages or more.

A new project called Turning off Paper, or TOP, aims to help.

By having staff view the information on computer screens instead, the project will save the time and money spent handling, scanning, filing, and shredding paper. It will also help keep patient info more accurate, because it removes the chance of duplicate paper records.

Northern Health is working closely with physicians and staff to make this a seamless change.

“Most of the staff and physicians have been using the electronic lab reports for some time,” says Darcy Hamel, Manager of the ICU. “To see the drastic decrease of wasted paper and not affect how staff do their job has been fantastic.”

Another positive outcome from this change has been less chance of a medical error.

As Darcy says, “With the computer, you’re always looking at the most recent results. There’s one source of truth and you always see the most updated version.”

This change has also let nurses spend more time with their patients. “The nurses don’t need to leave a bedside,” says Darcy, “because computers are more readily available for them to see results.”

In case of power outages, there’s a “downtime” computer with all the latest data — each unit has one available.

Jesse Priseman, Projects and Planning Manager, says, “The goal is that ICU will be the first department at UHNBC to be completely electronic. It’s been a positive change, and we look forward to making other departments more environmentally friendly in 2019.”

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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Award of Merit for NH Stop Stigma campaign

Tamara Reichert accepting an Award of Excellence at the IABC Awards.

It’s the perfect day for a #ThrowbackThursday to when NH won an Award of Merit in issues management and crisis communication from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) for our “Stop Stigma. Save Lives.” campaign!

Tamara Reichert, communications advisor, pictured, accepted the award on NH’s behalf at the IABC World Conference in Montreal earlier this year. The campaign aimed at reducing stigma against people who use drugs, in response to the provincial public health emergency around overdose-related deaths in BC last year.

Stigma against people who use drugs results in discrimination, impacts health, and contributes to overdoses. By sharing the stories of the 12 people with firsthand or family experiences of drug use, our goal was to focus on building compassion, encouraging empathy, and creating awareness that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Kudos to everyone who worked on this project and the NH Anti-Stigma Opioid Response team! See our videos and learn more about the project on our website here: https://www.northernhealth.ca/health-topics/stigma

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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“This is who I am:” Northern Health staff member Jessie King presents at international conference

Jessie King posing with a slide from her presentation.
Jessie King before presenting her PhD thesis in Toronto.

Jessie King presented her PhD thesis on November 10 as part of an event attended by 1,500 people from around the world.

The Prince George resident, a member of the Raven Clan of the Tsimshian First Nation, was attending the 11th annual Decolonizing Conference hosted by the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

The conference, entitled “Dialoguing and Living Well Together: Decolonization and Insurgent Voices,” was at the University of Toronto, which is located on the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Petun, Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River.

Decolonizing has been described as speaking out against and reframing “the ongoing colonialism and colonial mentalities that permeate education, media, government policies, and ‘commonsense’.”[1]

Jessie, who works in Northern Health’s Indigenous Health department as the Lead, Research & Community Engagement, entitled her thesis “Niit nüüyu gwa’a: Decolonizing and Deconstructing First Nations Identity.” The first part of the title is Sm’algyax for “This is who I am.” She chose this title to acknowledge the ten-year intensive exploration of her identity that has taught her to keep questioning and talking about Indigenous identities. For her identity, specifically, Jessie looks to her personal experiences growing up learning about her Tsimshian culture, social interactions that were both positive and negative, and the most recent and ongoing conflict with identity as defined within the Indian Act.  

A painting by Jessie King of a raven and an orange moon.
This painting by Jessie King representing the clan and identity that she shares with her boys was also used as a conceptual framework for her research.

Her work looks at how the social, personal, and legal components of First Nations identity influence how someone thinks of their identity. It’s important to discuss and interrogate the intersection of where these parts of First Nations identity interact and create conflict, not only for First Nations People, but equally for those who are curious to know more.

Jessie’s thesis, which she’ll formally defend early in 2019, discusses issues of identity in an Indigenous context. Some questions she examines include: “Does how you disclose your identity change based on different situations and your perceived level of safety?” and “What are the implications of status on your identity?”

Jessie built her thesis on a foundation of research that she carried out for her master’s degree. At that time, she talked to women who’d lost status by “marrying out” – in other words, by marrying a man without Status as defined in the Indian Act.

“This whole concept of status being based on your proximity to men with status is problematic,” Jessie says. “To have such an important part of your legal identity defined by the men in your life is difficult for me coming from a matrilineal society.” 

She continued the work into her PhD thesis partly at the urging of the women she spoke with, who she prefers to describe as “co-researchers,” rather than “research subjects.”

“Several of these women asked me to keep the conversation going and keep creating that space,” she says. “We’re moving forward together.”

In the course of the interviews, people would interpret their identities much more precisely, she says, because they were in that space.

A slide from Jessie King’s conference presentation.
A slide from Jessie King’s conference presentation sets out the research questions used in her thesis.

For her co-researchers, being part of Jessie’s research was a positive experience overall: “Just being here right now, this is healing” said one woman. It’s essential to create space for these conversations to happen in safe spaces without fearing what others will think of you based on where you are in your journey to understanding identity. Jessie’s work is about acknowledging where people are in their understanding and honouring their stories by privileging their voice.

“The intent was to open up that space,” said Jessie. “Not many people feel safe to talk about their identity in the open, because of judgments, misunderstanding, or how an interaction will change because someone finds out who you are.”

A concrete example of the contradictions inherent in Indigenous identity involves a specific spot where Jessie fishes with her family. Beyond a certain point on that river,four important men in Jessie’s life – her two sons, husband, and father – are not legally allowed to fish: her husband and father, because they are not Indigenous; and her two boys, because Jessie is unable to transmit her status to them after marrying their father. This is the current law according to the Indian Act: after two generations of “marrying out,” mothers lose the ability to transmit status to their children, and subsequently, membership to their ancestral communities.

Jessie and her mother, on the other hand, are free to fish and practice certain rights. Jessie notes that according to researcher Pam Palmater, this sort of restriction creates “a divide between different ways of knowing who we are — a divide between people.” It’s a divide she anticipates having to explain to her two young sons one day when their curiosity shifts to who they are and why it’s in conflict with a system that defines them differently from their Tsimshian mother and grandmother.

“It’s still something I struggle with, that divide within families,” Jessie says. “My boys will never be able to fish beyond that boundary. I do this work in preparation for explaining this to them when they’re old enough to ask.”

Jessie claims this is problematic “because the Indian Act has been conflated with personal identity, which it is not, but it does impact your idea of self when it is in conflict with who you are and who your family is.” She continues, “Be what you were meant to be and do what you were meant to do, not what the Indian Act determines!”

Jessie reports that her presentation was well received in Toronto, and that she found it valuable to share her thoughts and her research with people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous — from many different countries.


[1][https://intercontinentalcry.org/what-is-decolonization-and-why-does-it-matter/, accessed December 5, 2018

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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Haida Gwaii Hospital has first Haida language lesson with NH staff

A group of people standing outside the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre.

The Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP) visited staff at the Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre in Queen Charlotte on November 30 for a learning lunch and their first Haida language lesson.

There was an impressive turnout, with about 40 staff in attendance. Luu (Kevin Borserio, language teacher) led the staff in an accessible lesson, with the elders demonstrating proper use of language.

“It was a heart-warming experience,” said Dr.Morton, a family practitioner. Staff look forward to many more lessons in the future.

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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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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