Healthy Living in the North

Fort St. John Intensive Case Management team helps client get identification

Intensive Case Management team smiles for a photo.

The hard working and dedicated members of the Intensive Case Management team (left to right: Tiffany, Lily, Sonia, Todd, Cindy, and Bridgette).

Intensive Case Management teams (ICMs) serve people with substance abuse challenges, the mentally ill, and the homeless through a team-based approach. Members of these health care teams provide more than direct patient care – they’re advocates for their clients, helping them any way they can. In Fort St. John, when a client named Peter needed help getting identification, his ICM team was there to help him.

“Shortly after his birth in the United States in the 1960s, Peter was adopted by a Canadian family,” says Todd Stringer, Support Worker with the ICM team in Fort St. John. “He didn’t have any documentation or identification to prove who he was. This was common for kids from the Sixties Scoop. Over the last couple of years, we’ve worked closely with Peter to help him get the documentation he needs. This involved getting a Louisiana birth certificate, filling out paper work, and working with multiple government agencies.

Peter is pictured.

The Fort St. John Intensive Care Management team’s client Peter.

“It’s been such a pleasure working with Peter and helping him overcome this hurdle. Advocating for clients is an important part of our job, and it’s always nice to have a positive outcome.”

Peter recently applied for his Canadian citizenship certificate, and they expect it will arrive shortly. Once it arrives, Peter will be able to receive his primary identification and finally prove his identity.

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

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

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Fort St. John doctor brings new frostbite treatment to Northern BC

Dr. Wilkie and a woman stand beside each other outdoors. Dr. Wilkie holds a toddler.

Thanks to Dr. Wilkie (left), there should be less amputations due to frostbite this winter.

Few things can put an end to winter activities as fast as frostbite, but thanks to one Fort St. John doctor, Northern Health may soon have a better way of treating it.

Dr. Jamie Wilkie, a recent graduate of the UBC Family Medicine residency program, saw a need during his residency in Fort St. John to improve how we are dealing with frostbite.

“I previously lived and worked in Hay River [in the Northwest Territories], have dogsledded in the Yukon, and guided canoe trips in all three territories,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I have personally and professionally seen the impacts of frostbite and related exposure injuries.”

Frostbite treatment became the focus of Dr. Wilkie’s resident scholar project. He collaborated with Jessica Brecknock, Regional Medication Use Management Pharmacist, and Kendra Clary, Med Systems Pharmacy Technician, to create a prepackaged treatment plan (order set) for use of the drug iloprost in severe frostbite cases.

“The literature for the use of iloprost in severe frostbite shows a significant decrease in the need for amputations,” says Dr. Wilkie. “The goal of this project is to improve access to the best evidence-based treatments for severe frostbite in Northern BC.”

Northern Health approved this protocol, and it will be available for use this winter. Dr. Wilkie believes this is the first frostbite order set for iloprost in BC.

Dr. Wilkie moved to Fort St. John in June 2017 and is enjoying all the outdoor opportunities the area has to offer. He and his wife have been hiking around places such as Tumbler Ridge, Hudson Hope, and in Stone Mountain Provincial Park to name a few. They have canoed on the Peace River, and done lots of fishing.

“I knew that I loved the North and the access to fishing, hunting, hiking, and sledding,” says Dr. Wilkie. “I wanted to be in a small town and I wanted to practice full-scope family medicine. I looked at residencies all over the US and Canada, and only Fort St. John checked all those boxes.

“I also really like the people. They are hard working, generous, and generally very appreciative of having physicians in town.”

Mark Hendricks

About Mark Hendricks

Mark is the Communications Advisor, Medical Affairs at Northern Health. He was raised in Prince George, and has earned degrees from UNBC (International Business) and Thompson Rivers University (Journalism). As a fan of Fall and Winter, the North suits him and he’s happy to be home in Prince George. When he's not working, Mark enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, playing games of all sorts, hiking, and a good cup (or five) of coffee.

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I came for… I stayed because… with Melinda Lau

Melinda stands on a train track that disappears in the distant forest. A sunny sky beats down on her.

Taking in the scenery on the Pouce Coupe Bridge.

I recently noticed a common theme in my conversations with many Northern Health staff members. They were planning on coming to the North for a short time, but they’ve stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Melinda Lau, Chief Physiotherapist, Rehabilitation in Fort St. John. Melinda is from Toronto, and came to Northern Health in 2016.

I came for…

I originally came to Northern Health for a temporary maternity leave position in Dawson Creek. When that ended, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I found the Chief Physiotherapist position posting in Fort St. John and decided to apply. I had limited managerial experience and I had only been in practice for a few years, so I was excited when I was offered the position!

I like the outdoors and the mountains, and wanted to live somewhere close to hiking trails and rock climbing. I had visited the area before, during a trip to the Yukon, so I knew what to expect when I came here. I liked the small-town feel in the Peace River region.

Melinda mountain climbs, suspended by a rope, hanging onto a rock. The rock fades from grey to brown and yellow.

Melinda working on her mountain climbing skills on Hassler Crag just outside of Chetwynd.

I stayed because…

There are a lot of different activities to get involved with, including cross-country skiing, the pottery guild, and so much more. I enjoy attending all of the different festivals, rodeos, and events in town.

I love the people I work with, and couldn’t ask for a better team. Everyone gets along great, and it feels like I’m working with a group of my friends.

I have been given so many amazing opportunities in this role. The leadership team has allowed me to develop many different areas in addition to my clinical practice. I’ve been given more areas to manage, and been allowed to develop my own interests. I feel valued as an employee; they are investing in me, which makes me want to stay here and grow and develop. My original plan was to stay here for a year, but I don’t feel the need to go anywhere else!

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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I came for… I stayed because… with Ibolya Agoston

Ibolya is in the front of a canoe on a clam lake, surrounded by mountains.

Ibolya enjoying time off at the Bowron Lakes in the Cariboo.

I recently noticed a common theme in my conversations with many Northern Health staff members. They were planning on coming to the North for a short time, but they’ve stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Ibolya Agoston, team leader, Mental Health and Addictions Specialized Services. Based in Fort St. John, Ibolya is from Romania and came to Northern Health in 2003.

I came for…

I came to Canada for an adventure, where I could forge my own career path. I was living in England at the time, and wanted to experience the adventure of living in a Northern, rural community.

I was told about Health Match BC as a resource to learn more about nursing in BC. Their staff guided me to available positions in Northern Health. Well before Google maps, I had no idea where Fort St. John was located. To help me decide where I wanted to live, I went to the local library, and looked through photo books imagining what life would be like in the North. Then, I called the Fort St. John Health Unit and the receptionist who answered the phone sold me on the community. If it wasn’t for her sales pitch, I might have gone to a different community.

Iboyla takes a selfie. Behind her is a small valley and lake.

Iboyla participating in the Emperor’s challenge in Tumbler Ridge.

I stayed because…

The people. Leadership in the Northeast encourages the growth and development. They invest in their staff and encourage you to achieve your career goals. I work with amazing staff, and I enjoy impacting their career development. I’m able to coach them and encourage their own career growth.

I love the lifestyle I have in Fort St. John. We are close to nature and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. People who come here tend to have a similar mindset. Outside of work, I can canoe, hike, or cross-country ski.

Our patients are my immediate community. We’re serving people that I’m sometimes acquainted with, and interactions carry more weight because you have a different impact than in a larger community. People can be intimidated by the North, but once you embrace it, you love it!

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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I came for… I stayed because… with Stella Ndunda

Stella and her mother are bundled up on top of a hill, overlooking other snowy hills and a body of water.

Stella (left) introducing her mom to the Fort St. John winters.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common theme in my conversations with Northern Health staff! Many staff members planned to come to the North for a short time, but have stayed for a lot longer. Meet one such person: Stella Ndunda, a primary care team lead based in Fort St. John. Stella is from Kenya and joined Northern Health in 2012.

I came for…

In 2003, I left Kenya and came to Canada to pursue my Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology. After completing my master’s, I worked casual positions for a year in Vancouver. I needed full-time hours, and at that time it was difficult to gain full-time employment in Vancouver. I was alerted to an opening at the Fort St. John office with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It was a really good job where I gained lots of experience. In 2012, I started at Northern Health as a care process coach.

Stella in the mall. Beside her is a table with a sign that says "Zumba with Stella."

Stella promoting her Zumba classes at the local Fort St John shopping centre.

I stayed because…

I did not plan or anticipate that I would stay in Fort St. John for so long, and I’m often asked why I’ve stayed. I’ve gotten more involved with the community in Fort St. John than I ever did in Vancouver. I received lots of support and kindness from the community and I have built genuine friendships.

As an African woman, camping, swimming, hiking, or fishing are not typically things to do, but I had wonderful friends that I trusted to push me way beyond my comfort zone! Surprisingly, I’ve really enjoyed those activities. I like trying new things and, despite it being a small town, Fort St. John has lots of activities to offer. I’ve shared my love of music and dance through teaching Zumba. It’s been wonderful sharing a bit of myself with the community.

At Northern Health, I’ve had great leaders who’ve supported my career growth and development. The team at Fort St. John Community Services is wonderful and I’m excited for our future.

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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3D1P: Drugs, Dinos, Dinner, and a Pig… Another unique medical conference in Tumbler Ridge

The conference's organization team waits for participants at the registration booth.

The conference’s organization team waits for participants at the registration booth. Left to right: Dr. Charles Helm, Heather Gummow, Jayleen Emery, and Kirsten Quinlan.

The third annual 3D Conference – Drugs, Dinos, and Dinner (now 3D1P for the one pig (1P) that was roasted) was held in Tumbler Ridge from May 31-June 2, 2019. Nearly 70 physicians, pharmacists, and allied health professionals registered. On the Saturday, that number swelled to over 120 with spouses and families joining for the pig roast at the Lions Flatbed Creek Campground. To the best of our knowledge, this was the largest ever medical gathering in northeastern BC.

Conference participants were treated to ten hours of stimulating talks featuring:

  • Dr. Tom Perry, Dr. Rita McCracken, and Stephanie Song of the Therapeutics Initiative. The Therapeutics Initiative is a UBC-based think tank that rigorously analyzes evidence on which medications work and which don’t.
  • Internationally renowned speakers Dr. Tom Finucane and Dr. Robin McKenzie journeyed all the way from Boston, Massachusetts. They delivered outstanding presentations on matters like antibiotic overuse and how routine, current treatment of Type 2 diabetes is open to criticism.
  • Dr. Onyema Ohiaeri spoke about ways to address the opioid crisis.
  • Dr. James Wilkie continued the tradition of a medical resident presenting a polypharmacy case.
  • Charissa Tonnesen and Dr. Charles Helm presented on local Tumbler Ridge medical and health-related initiatives.
  • Seven resource booths provided extra learning opportunities, all completely free of pharmaceutical industry involvement.
A female presenter is in front of a room of participants. A screen is behind her with her presentation slides.

Dr. Robin McKenzie presenting to the participants.

There were also social activities surrounding the educational part of the conference. They had a healthy living and activity focus, with tours to Kinuseo Falls, morning fitness runs and swimming, Zumba classes, and, for the kids, it was all about Dinosaur Camp! Museum staff provided them with an unforgettable experience over two mornings. All in all, a unique learning environment was created, cementing the reputation of Tumbler Ridge as a family-friendly conference destination with a special ambience.

At the end of the memorable weekend, participant evaluation forms reflected the high satisfaction rate for the conference. There were even suggestions that 3D1P should become a provincial event in 2020.

Dr. Ronald Chapman, Northern Health’s Vice President of Medicine, was one of the special guests at 3D1P. After the event, he commented that: “The 3D conference was very well organized and the lectures were exceptional. I was delighted that I attended.”

It takes a community to put on a conference like this, and well over 25 volunteers went the extra mile to make it happen. The organizing committee (Charles Helm, Heather Gummow, Kirsten Quinlan, and Jayleen Emery) are enormously grateful to all of the volunteers and businesses that contributed.

For more information, please contact:

Charles Helm

About Charles Helm

Charles Helm has been a family physician in Tumbler Ridge since 1992. He immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1986. He is the author of seven books on the Tumbler Ridge area, two on the history of the northern Rockies, and one on dinosaurs for kids. He has been an active explorer in the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, designing, building and maintaining hiking trails. His palaeontological interests, expressed through the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, have led to numerous fossil discoveries and scientific articles. He was instrumental in the successful proposal that led to the creation of the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark, the newest UNESCO site in western Canada. He and his wife Linda have two children, Daniel and Carina.

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