Healthy Living in the North

Aboriginal/Indigenous Health Improvement Committees: what are they and how do they impact health care in the North?

The Local Cultural Guide guide is pictured. The cover features a stunning image of a totem, as well as a wood building with Indigenous art on it.

The Local Cultural Resources Guide, created by the A/IHICs, supports health practitioners’ understanding of Indigenous community cultures, histories, and contexts.

Aboriginal/Indigenous Health Improvement Committees (A/IHICs) are action oriented groups of people who work together to support health and wellness for Indigenous people, families, and communities in Northern BC.

The A/IHICs began in 2005 and there are now eight across the Northern Health (NH) region:

NH is committed to partnering with Indigenous peoples and communities, and to building a health care system that honours diversity and provides culturally safe services.

The A/IHICs are made up of many different types of people, including local representation from Indigenous communities and organizations, the First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health, and other sectors.

A/IHICs provide opportunities for new connections and stronger relationships and cultural understandings between diverse communities and sectors working for the health and well-being of Indigenous people and communities.

The members of each A/IHIC bring perspectives and experiences from people who live in their communities and access health care. Through the A/IHICs, Indigenous peoples’ perspectives inform local priorities and solutions!

The work of the A/IHICs is driven by three key questions:

  1. If I was a new practitioner coming to your community, what would you like me to know about you so that I could serve you better?
  2. What is it that you need to know so that you can be the best practitioner that you can be?
  3. What is it that we need to know to be the very best partner that we can be to communities and other organizations?

The A/IHICs operate with the principle that Indigenous health is holistic and seeks balance. At the heart of this view is an understanding that all things – land, water, air, animals, individuals, families, and communities – are connected and in relation to one another. Holistic health is a process that demands a broad and inclusive perspective for addressing health issues.

Over the years, the A/IHICs have undertaken many different projects, including mapping patient journeys across Northern BC. Patient journey and process maps are an opportunity for communities to bring their voice into the health care system and identify opportunities for change in health services, as well as to identity local solutions and concrete actions that can be taken at the local level. The gaps and challenges that were identified can be collaboratively addressed through local strategies and solutions.  If you want more information on this project, you can read the full Mapping Summary Report.

Each A/IHIC has also worked to create local cultural resources that support health practitioners’ understanding of Indigenous community cultures, histories, and contexts. Check out the Local Cultural Resources booklet (produced by NH’s Indigenous Health department) for more details.

Shelby Petersen

About Shelby Petersen

Shelby is the Web Services Coordinator with Indigenous Health. Shelby has over five years of experience working in content development and digital marketing. After graduating with a degree in Political Science from UNBC, Shelby moved to Vancouver where she pursued a career in digital marketing. Most recently, Shelby was the Senior Content Developer and Project Manager with a digital advertising agency in Vancouver, British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Shelby is thrilled to be back in the community and spending time outside enjoying everything that the North has to offer.

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The journey to 100% mobile-friendly sites at Northern Health

Northern Health's Indigenous Health site displayed on a variety of devices.

Northern Health’s sites – all mobile-friendly on all the devices!

In 2016, which feels like an eternity ago, the Northern Health web team embarked on what became a three-year journey of enlightenment as we moved all the external websites over to a new and mobile-friendly platform called Drupal.

The entire project actually began several years before when it became obvious that we needed to make some big changes to our public-facing websites. They weren’t keeping up to the rapidly growing mobile world and didn’t work very well on mobile devices.

Drupal has been around since 2001, but our team had never worked with it. To familiarize ourselves with this framework and technology, we set out a pilot project: developing indigenoushealthnh.ca on Drupal 8.

After the successful launch of the pilot in early 2017, we moved ahead with the daunting task of bringing all our existing websites over to the new platform. After dedicating many hours and conquering steep learning curves, we launched the first two sites, northernhealth.ca and careers.northernhealth.ca, in the summer of 2018. Physicians.northernhealth.ca and nhconnections.ca followed soon after in early 2019.

Accessibility

The old websites were not accessible to visitors with disabilities, especially our aging population. A website is accessible when its content is available to everyone, regardless of any visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairment. BC is expected to introduce legislation on accessibility in 2024. We’ve been proactive, working towards having completely accessible websites when the legislation comes in to place.

Some of the changes we’ve made to make the sites more accessible are:

  • Larger font sizes.
  • Colour combinations that work for colour-blind visitors or visitors with aging eyesight.
  • Coding in the backend that lets blind or visually impaired users listen to the page using a screen reader.
  • Making sure someone can navigate the site with just a keyboard.

Mobile-friendly

All of the new websites are fully responsive, meaning whatever device you’re viewing it on, the content will flow and adapt to fit the screen. On a desktop computer the display may have three columns across the page where on a mobile phone the display will flow into one column.

We now proudly have more visitors accessing northernhealth.ca on a mobile phone or tablet than we do on a desktop computer. For example, in May of this year, 116,390 people visited northernhealth.ca: 85,871 of those visits came from mobile phones and only 21,030 from desktop computers, with the remaining 9,224 visits coming from tablets.­

A table and pie chart display the number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type (mobile - 85,871 (73.95%), desktop - 21,030 (18.11%), tablet - 9,224 (7.94%)).

The number of visitors to Northern Health sites by device type for May 2019.

While we celebrated and embraced these mobile-friendly, ascendible “new arrivals” like loving parents, we secretly knew the real work was just about to begin!

A collage of four updated Northern Health sites.

Northern Health’s updated and mobile-friendly sites have similar templates for familiar user experiences.

Improved experience

Another important reason for making these changes was to update aging site content, much of which was out-of-date, hard to navigate, and not focused on what our visitors or patients required.

We needed to create an easier way for visitors to find the information they require. We dedicated a lot of time to simplify the menus and make information easy and intuitive to find. All of our facilities are now available from the “Locations” tab on the main navigation menu.

The NH Communications team also worked with the Patient Voices Network in the areas of Mental Health and Substance Use, Home and Community Care, Chronic Diseases, and Primary and Community Care to find out what information patients want to see on our website and how they can find it easily. We have endeavoured to make sure this information has been presented in the best way possible.

We’re also working to ensure the content on our sites has been written in plain language, which makes it easy to read and understand.

If you have any questions or feedback about the new sites, please don’t hesitate to contact me or Rosemary Dolman, Regional Manager, Web Services.

Darren Smit

About Darren Smit

Darren is the NH Web Specialist on the Communications team. He is a creative at heart, with passion for photography, graphic design, typography, and more. During the past 17 years, he has traveled to over 80 countries worldwide, and he lives in Prince George with his wife and son.

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Our People: Spotlight on Dr. Aryn Khan, Physician in Vanderhoof

Dr. Khan at the hospital with her three children. One child sits in a chair with a newborn baby.

Dr. Khan doing her medical rounds with her kids. The beauty of rural medicine!

You might remember Dr. Aryn Khan from the fantastic story she wrote about taking part in a Mama Mia production in Vanderhoof. Her enthusiasm for her job and life in Vanderhoof makes Dr. Khan a great person to include for the “Our People: spotlight” series!

Dr. Khan, how’d you get into medicine?

I was born in Burns Lake, BC and always dreamed of becoming a rural family doctor. The road was winding as I previously worked in laboratory sciences, biochemical sales, and as a registered dietitian. I took a few years to travel and study abroad in England. In 2009, I started my medical degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I managed to juggle having our first daughter with medical school and residency without taking any time off, and still found time to snowboard, volunteer in Cambodia, partake in the multiple sclerosis (MS) off-road bike tour in Hinton, and enjoy window shopping at West Edmonton Mall. We moved to Vanderhoof in March 2016 and I literally hit the ground running.

What do you do in Vanderhoof?

I work more than full time in clinic, obstetrics, and emergency medicine. I offer circumcisions, lumps and bumps clinics, and I “scrub in” for surgical assistance. I do rounds on hospital patients, provide community detox/addictions support, and am now learning endoscopy. I am currently on the Medical Staff Association for St. John Hospital and am chair of our Facility Engagement. I love the variety of rural family medicine!

I also love coffee, cooking, visiting with friends and family, camping, fishing, travelling, kickboxing, biking, and gardening. My life is crazy-busy with three amazing kids, two dogs, three cats, two parrots, my husband, and the best job in the world: rural family medicine in Vanderhoof!

What would you say to anyone wanting to get into rural family medicine?

You have to have a lot of energy because you’re always busy, but the variety is amazing. You can do anything you want to do and visit with anybody. You help all of your patients, right from pregnancy, delivering, doing home visits, and long-term care. It’s totally full scope, I love it. Staying organized is very key, because you are very busy and it’s great to have people in your court helping you.

Dr. Khan stands in her yard with a cherry tree behind her.

Dr. Khan enjoying time in her garden.

What do you like about the community you live in?

Everybody is amazing here in Vanderhoof! The community, all the doctors are incredibly supportive; they’re all my friends and my family. My kids call them all aunts and uncles. They’ve just totally adopted us and taken us in. We don’t have any direct family here and it still feels like home. Everyone just wants you to succeed. All of my colleagues here are so supportive and they have all jumped to help one another. The collegial environment is amazing. I promote that strongly to our new recruits. It’s really a family of people who work together to make the best team. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else. The support here is honestly amazing. They support you with anything! After the birth of my third child, all the doctors came in to congratulate me. If you’re sick, people will ask if they can help with the kids. That doesn’t happen with most jobs. We’ve lived here for three years and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else because they make you feel so great.

When you aren’t super busy, what do you like to do?

I love baking and cooking. Before I became a doctor, I was a dietitian because I love food. I’m a total foodie. I love going out to restaurants and experimenting with new recipes. The kids and I are always baking and trying new things. My husband planted me this big garden and greenhouse, so we’ve been eating lots of homegrown things. Being in a smaller community, I find all sorts of farmers, so we get a lot fresh and local from the farm.

What’s something someone might not know about you?

I really like to go out boating and, funny enough, fishing. We bought a boat a couple years ago, and we love to take the kids out on the tube and go swimming in the middle of the lake. We also like to do ocean fishing and crabbing. We’re off to Haida Gwaii this year. It’s like my little sanctuary. We probably go there every year and just hang out.

What’s your guilty pleasure/vice?
A fabulous glass of red wine, and it has to be served with some sort of amazing cheese platter or a charcuterie board.

Thank you Dr. Kahn for your enthusiasm! Your story and the zest you have for your community reminds us all of the opportunities in the North!

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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The St. John Hospital acute care garden: improving quality of life for people waiting for long-term care

The acute care garden gives seniors waiting for long-term opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility.

This spring, the residents and staff at St. John Hospital (Vanderhoof) came together to start a garden for acute care patients who are on long-term care waitlists. Acute patients who are waiting for a long-term care spot can have limited access to activities and recreation. This project gives them opportunities for engagement, socialization, and mobility on the acute floor.

Many of the residents grew up in or around Vanderhoof, and were avid farmers and gardeners throughout their lives. Now, they can tend, water, weed, and enjoy this garden. Doing so reconnects them to their past, sparking old memories, and contributes to their sense of purpose.

This project was started by the Rehabilitation Department at the St. John Hospital, which includes occupational therapist Valerie Padgin, rehabilitation assistant Roxanne, and myself (also an occupational therapist). It’s part of a DementiAbility initiative.

Thanks to the generous donations and support from several family members, the acute care garden is now thriving, growing tomatoes and lettuce! This project wouldn’t be possible without:

  • Maya Sullivan from the Vanderhoof Community Garden for loaning the hospital a wheelchair accessible planter, which got the project started.
  • The Men’s Shed for building two additional planters.
  • The Co-op and Home Hardware in Vanderhoof for donating soil, potting mix, gloves, hand tools, and a watering can.
  • Eileen at Maxine’s Greenhouse for donating dozens of beautiful plants that are flourishing in the garden.
  • Allan Pagdin and Joanne Petrie, who put in several hours of time and labour to make the project a success.

We hope the garden continues to grow and improve the lives of our residents and acute care patients!

Laura Giroux

About Laura Giroux

Laura is an Occupational Therapist at the St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof. Originally from Vancouver Island, Laura has been in the North for nearly four years, and enjoys all of the recreation and outdoor activities that it has to offer. She recently joined the Rehabilitation Department at St. John Hospital and is excited to work on such a creative and compassionate team.

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