Healthy Living in the North

Debbie Strang honoured as Health Care Hero at 2018 BC Health Care Awards

Debbie Strang accepting Health Care Hero award.

Debbie Strang (at left) receiving her Health Care Hero award at the 2018 BC Heath Care Awards in Vancouver on June 25

They say if you want something done, you should ask a busy person do it. Here at Northern Health, Debbie Strang is that person, and she gets things done!

Debbie has worked in a wide variety of roles during her 25-year career at Northern Health, including medical-surgical units, extended care, mental health, and administration. She is a qualified nurse preceptor, and a certified suicide prevention trainer.

In her current role as Health Services Administrator for Quesnel, she leads approximately 450 staff members and has spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at delivering better health care to communities in BC’s Central Interior.

In 2014, Debbie was asked to take on the dual role of health services administrator for Robson Valley and Quesnel.

Debbie stepped up to the challenge of providing leadership for a large geographical area, building relationships with communities, staff and physicians and ensuring that quality health care services were provided in both communities. Debbie’s leadership was instrumental in the emergency response to the 2017 wildfire season.

For always rising to the occasion and doing whatever is needed to support her community’s health care needs, Debbie Strang is this year’s Health Care Hero for Northern Health.

Huge congratulations to Debbie!

For more information on the BC Health Care Awards, visit www.bchealthcareawards.ca.

Check out Debbie’s Gold Apple video below!

Article based on content provided by the Health Employers Association of BC.

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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Excellence in Northern Health nursing: Valerie Waymark & Leslie Murphy

Last week, I had the privilege of introducing you to two Northern Health nurses who received Nursing Excellence Awards from the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia in 2014. This week, I am excited to share the insights of two more award winners, Valerie Waymark and Leslie Murphy, who shared their thoughts on the award and on working in northern B.C.

Valerie Waymark holding award

Valerie Waymark, regional manager of community care facilities licensing, was one of six Northern Health nurses recognized by the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia in 2014.

Valerie Waymark, regional manager, community care facilities licensing, Prince George

What does this award mean to you?

This award carried a lot of meaning and poignancy for me. Over 15 years ago, I decided to get more involved in the professional group that was to become the CRNBC. I was elected to the board for two terms. I learned so much over those terms and my position on the board gave me the chance to be involved in past award galas. One year, I pinned corsages onto the award winners; another year, I handed the recipients their roses as they walked onstage. As I was helping out at those galas, I’d often think: “Wouldn’t it be cool to get that award?” And now, over ten years later, I was one of the nurses walking across the stage!

For me, there was so much synchronicity getting this award, this year. This is the last year that the CRNBC will be giving out the awards (the awards are being transferred to the Association of Registered Nurses of BC) so it was really poignant, given my past involvement in the CRNBC, to be part of this final group of CRNBC award recipients. It was also special to see that the awards in 2014 were presented by Rob Calnan, who was the president of the organization during one of my terms on the board. I hadn’t seen Rob since my time on the board so to be recognized by Rob and the CRNBC in the last year that this would be possible was quite special.

The award also feels special because it confirms the values that I hold near and dear. For years, I’ve been persistent about sticking to my personal values related to leadership so to be recognized by my peers feels very validating.

And, sadly, my husband passed away less than two months after the awards ceremony. He was with me for the presentation and I know he was very, very proud. That is a memory I will hold close to my heart for many years to come.

What do you enjoy most about working in northern B.C.?

I have lived and worked all over the place but have been in northern B.C. for about ten years. What I find most distinctive is the opportunity that the region provides – doors open here that may not have opened elsewhere. Also, there are unique circumstances that make the job more challenging and more fun. For me, our region’s uniqueness is proven every time that I sit in on health care discussions with representatives from around the province. Whenever I’m at these meetings, people always seem to ask: “What is the northern perspective?” To me, the reason that this question keeps coming up is because people in the north have, and are not afraid to express, different viewpoints. I value and appreciate those differences.

I also feel like there is a different camaraderie in northern B.C. People here come together unlike any other region I’ve lived and worked in. I am inspired every day by the generosity and compassion of people in the north.

Leslie Murphy holding award

Leslie Murphy, manager of maternal child services, was one of six Northern Health nurses recognized with a CRNBC Nursing Excellence Award in 2014.

Leslie Murphy, manager of maternal child services, Prince George

What does this award mean to you?

It is such an honour to be recognized by your peers! The award was very humbling and, for me, this feeling was driven home at the gala event itself. I kept seeing the other award recipients and wondering how it was that I fit amongst them! I also found it really meaningful to see the letters of support that had been written for my nomination – and even more special to be able to share those letters with my mother, who was very proud. There were letters written by students I had mentored, physicians with whom I have worked, nursing mentors, and peers who have all played such integral parts in my career.

What do you enjoy most about working in northern B.C.?

I have worked with Northern Health in northern B.C. for my entire 22-year career so I can’t really compare it to anything else! What strikes me as special about the north, though, is that despite (and perhaps because of) the huge territory that Northern Health occupies, nurses get to develop strong relationships with others across the region. We share policy, procedures, insights, and experiences. I love getting requests for information and advice from across the province. It seems to me that northern nurses are able to work together despite geography and demographics, which I see as a testament to the spirit of collaboration and teamwork in northern B.C.

What’s more, I get to be a jack-of-all-trades! I love working in small, remote regions and try to encourage students to get a taste of rural nursing, like I had in my career.


In all, six Northern Health nurses won Nursing Excellence Awards: Lisa Cox, Celia Evanson, Linda Keefe, Leslie Murphy, Barb Schuerkamp, and Valerie Waymark. Visit the CRNBC website to read their full bios.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

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

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A well-deserved award for one of our own

Andrew Burton and Dick Harris

Andrew Burton (left) with MP Dick Harris, receiving his medal at the awards ceremony. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

A member of the Northern Health team has achieved a great honour!

Andrew Burton has received well-deserved recognition this week as a recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris, as appointed by the Queen through the Governor General of Canada, presented Andrew with the award on Wednesday August 8 for his “service to the community,” said Harris.

The award honours Canadians with significant achievements, and thirty of them have been given to residents of northern B.C. In addition to the specially designed medal, recipients of the award received a letter of commendation from the Governor General, on behalf of the Queen, an official certificate and lapel pin.

Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team, where he develops programs to help people quit smoking and lead healthier lifestyles. He was anonymously nominated and received this award for his volunteer work with the Street Spirits Theatre Company, a Prince George-based youth program that aims to bring awareness to big societal problems through workshops, stage performances, and community interaction.

I talked to Andrew about his work with the theatre program and what winning this award means to him.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. (photo by Teresa Cavanaugh)

What is this award for?

This is an award primarily focused on my work with theatre. The award is here, in Prince George, and that means a lot to me, because I started the theatre program about 13 years ago, we travel a lot and teach workshops all over North America, and we still run into a lot of people in Prince George who have no idea who we are. This local recognition is really nice for us.

What is the theatre program?

The program I started is called Street Spirits Theatre Company. We work with young people from the Prince George area, who are all volunteers, and create stage performances about real problems in the world – HIV/AIDS, homelessness, bullying, sexual assault, family violence, drug use, poverty, eating disorders, racism, poverty in third world countries, and many others. We also teach workshops, called Theatre is Research, which involves going into a community and talking to people about what they think are issues in their community and then creating a performance about it. We give the community an opportunity to recognize the problem and generate grassroots solutions for it, and then we do a stage show about it. We also do social action theatre, called forum theatre, where members of the audience can get involved by entering the play and try to change it. We do about 25 shows a year, and two or three major workshops a year, and we have had people come from as far away as Australia to come train with us.

Why did you start this program?

We started the program to provide an opportunity for involvement for youth at the Youth Around Prince Resource Centre. Initial support came from the Future Cents program, Youth Around Prince, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Prince George Native Friendship Centre and Prince George Alcohol and Drug Services. We asked the youth coming in to the centre what they wanted and several said they would like to learn acting skills. To meet that need, and to provide a service to the community, we started Street Spirits. I took the lead because I have background in theatre and training in therapeutic theatre practice.  It is important to the youth to not only take part in acting but to do so in a way that benefits the community. The work involves young people in activities that develop self esteem, life skills social responsibility and personal ethics. It also raises awareness and responsibility in the audiences who we perform for.

How do youth get involved?

We currently have 15 active members, but membership is usually lower in summer. We like to keep around 15-20 involved but we don’t turn people away. It’s all free of charge, supported by donations and we occasionally get grants, including from Northern Health.

Youth from our audiences will come up to us and want to be involved, some kids bring their friends and we do get referrals from social service agencies.

We meet at YAP Friends (Youth Around Prince) across from City Hall every Thursday at 6pm. Anyone is welcome to come and get involved. And this October, we’re doing a presentation at an international festival in New York City called Performing the World. Travel will be arranged through fundraising efforts with the members.

What does this award mean to you?

The award is coming to me for this work, but this work exists because of probably over 200 young people who have volunteered over the last 14 years, 25 adults who have volunteered to help facilitate and run the program, and because of the support for the Youth Around Prince resource centre, Ministry of Children and Families and the local businesses and organizations that have given us support over the years.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community 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 also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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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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 www.bchealthcareawards.ca).

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 health promotion and community 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 also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, 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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