Healthy Living in the North

Congratulations Karen Skarpnes, NH’s Health Care Hero!

Karen Skarpnes receiving her award.

Karen Skarpnes (centre), 2012 Health Care Hero for Northern Health, pictured with Michael Marchbank, HEABC President & CEO (left) and Betsy Gibbons, HEABC Board Chair (right), receiving her plaque and Gold Apple. (Photo courtesy of

Last week, Northern Health’s very own Karen Skarpnes, was recognized as a Health Care Hero at the Excellence in BC Health Care Awards, presented by the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC).

Karen is a physiotherapist at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, and started her work there in 1979. You can watch HEABC’s video about the amazing work she does for her community and why she was awarded with the very well-deserved Gold Apple.

I had a conversation with Karen to talk about the award and get her own words about the work she does, the people she works with and the importance of sharing innovations and resources across our province.

How did you come to win this award?

It is a peer-nominated award, so I’m very grateful to my peer who nominated me. It’s a lot of work to put one of those nominations together.

What work and projects have led up to this?

One of the focuses of my practice has been to look for some prevention solutions to various injuries or difficulties that I see a repeating pattern of.

Most recently, I worked with Judy Rae, the oncology nurse in Prince Rupert; Elaine Lohnes, the exercise leader; and Joan Patriquin, an RN and the coach for the Rainbow Warriors, to develop a weight training program for women after breast cancer surgery.  We based that on work that had previously been done, but introducing the program to the Prince Rupert audience. We needed to find funding to do that.

Before that, I was working with frail older adults, along with a colleague, Tanya Boudier, an NH occupational therapist. We felt that frail older adult falls prevention program would be important to introduce to Prince Rupert. Again, this was not our original work, but us taking other work and incorporating it in the Prince Rupert area. Tanya and I managed to get grant money to do a pilot project on falls prevention in the residential care facility. We perceived a need, looked for who had begun this work, and approached them to see if we could get information. In this case, we collaborated with Dr. Vicky Scott, a fabulous researcher in Victoria, who invited us to be part of the BC coalition, a collaborative group on falls prevention in BC.

Even before that, I worked for about 10 years with the local swim program, developing a program with Margaret Harris, another physiotherapist in Prince Rupert. We looked at harm reduction for young competitive swimming around shoulder injuries, and developed a land-based program for preventive stretches and strengthening exercises to encourage better muscle balance and improve posture.

What is this award about to you?

This award is about collaboration and seeking the best practice that we know about that’s out there. There is some fabulous work being done provincially and nationally that we can access easier than 20 years ago and a lot of good folks working in the health authorities that seem willing to share. That’s what keeps me excited.

How was the Awards ceremony?

I felt very honoured to be in a room with the other recipients and their fabulous projects – there is some fabulous work being done around B.C. I think it would be great for others in Northern Health to take a look at that HEABC website to see what our colleagues are doing around the province. It’s another opportunity to network together or contact folks that are doing like work, or work that we’ve recognized could be useful to be applied in our areas.

On behalf of everyone at Northern Health, congratulations Karen!

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)