Healthy Living in the North

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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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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The kitchen at Parkside Secondary School: More than a place to cook

(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.)

Staff at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace.
L-R: Terri Finlayson (teacher), Jane Aubuckle (principal), David Griffin (teacher), and Laurie Mutschke (meal coordinator).

“However the spirit moves you.”

That’s the cooking advice you will often hear Laurie Mutschke, School Meal Coordinator, share with her students at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace. Among her other roles, she runs the school’s daily hot lunch program that serves meals made from scratch.

The school receives donations from the local Food Share program, Terrace Church’s Food Bank, Donna’s Kitchen and Catering, and Breakfast Club of Canada, along with food from the local community garden where the students help out. Nothing goes to waste – even the food scraps get put into the aptly named “Critter Bin.” The students also get credit for helping Laurie in the kitchen. When fresh produce shows up at the school, they often decide what to make for lunch.                        

I met with Laurie and Terri Finlayson, Foods, Science and Life Skills teacher, to learn more about the program. They recently celebrated the grand opening of their brand-new kitchen, and I was happy to get a tour of the beautiful facility. As we chatted, Laurie and Terri shared many stories. I quickly learned why their school’s kitchen is so much more than just a place to cook.  

Student and teacher cooking together.
L-R: Dakota Gull (student) and David Griffin (teacher).

Tell me more about the staff and students at your school!

Laurie: “[Parkside] is considered an alternate school… there is a lot of flexibility in terms of individual education plans. So, maybe today English isn’t something you want to do, maybe you can work in the kitchen. I think, along with the students being a unique group, we really do have a different blend of teachers with different passions.”

How did you start getting the students involved with cooking?

“Sometime they just come to you and say, “Can I help?” Sometimes I don’t even need the help, but I pull them in because I see that they need to come in. I will go to the teachers, and ask, “Can I have her help? She’s lost today, and she needs something.”

How has cooking helped you build connections with the students?

Terri: “As you’re busy cooking, you can have those conversations. If you’re sitting down, one-on-one, looking at them in the face, [students] will often shut down. But if you’re doing something else and you just casually start talking, you get into these topics that you normally never do.

And because [Laurie] doesn’t have that designated teacher role, a lot of kids feel comfortable talking to [her]. They come into the kitchen and now you’ve built that relationship. It’s a special thing, and you have to be a certain way as a person, not just a cook. You’re a counsellor, you’re a cook, and you’re also dealing with hygiene and teaching life skills.”

What other positive impacts has the cooking program had on students’ mental wellness?

Laurie: “They can feel good about themselves. They have a special job that makes them feel so important. On the lunch line someone says, ‘This is great, Laurie!’, and I say, ‘Don’t thank me – So and So made that!’ Just the connection you get over food, and their sense of their accomplishment.

Sometimes being in the kitchen becomes the reward. Not the eating of the food, but the preparing. We have a young lady who is on a very limited part-time schedule, but on certain days she does the baking… While they wait for whatever to be baked, [she] and her sister work on math in the kitchen. That then becomes her safe spot.”

What other activities are the students involved in?

Terri: “We take the students fishing and hiking, they gather the blueberries from up in Shames [Mountain]. We have an equestrian riding program. One of the teachers does crafts and sewing. I think that’s all part of the health piece too, because it helps them be healthy; not just eating, but in every way. A lot of them find that when they deal with their anxiety,they feel so much better.”

Laurie: “There is something here for everyone. Maybe you’re the kid that wants to go for a hike, or maybe you’re the kid that wants to cook in the kitchen. They do get excited because it’s taking the classroom outside, it’s not just sitting at a desk.”

People often say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. The staff and students at Parkside Secondary could not agree more! Just like at home, their kitchen wears many hats: it’s a place to build relationships, to learn new skills, to enjoy good food with friends, and most importantly, it’s a place to feel safe and cared for. 

Interested in starting a youth cooking program? Contact a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian for suggestions and resources at 250-631-4265 or PopHthNutrition@NorthernHealth.ca. Or visit the Northern Health Healthy Eating at School webpage.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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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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IMAGINE granting & cultivating community: The Burns Lake Community Garden

The courtyard and fire pit at the Burns Lake Community Garden.
The courtyard within the Burns Lake Community Garden, where people can gather around the fire to relax, socialize, and learn.

Healthy communities are much like gardens – they don’t just happen. They need to be tended, cultivated, and nurtured to grow to their full potential. Community gardens take this metaphor and turn it into real-world success stories. One of these tales of triumph is the Burns Lake Community Garden.

Like many communities in Northern BC, Burns Lake faces challenges with access to fresh, healthy foods. The Burns Lake Community Garden Society (BLCGS) seeks to address these concerns, and in Spring 2018 they applied for funding through the IMAGINE Community Grants program. The project was approved, and they got to work building an “edible environment” for all community members to enjoy.

In addition to planting a dozen fruit trees and a dozen fruit bearing bushes to provide access to local produce, the BLCGS wanted to create an environment for people to come together and enjoy the literal fruits of their labour. They envisioned a courtyard, surrounded by garden, where people could gather around a fire to relax, socialize, and learn. And it’s safe to say, that vision was realized.

Completed in late summer, the upgraded community garden has already hosted a successful workshop on traditional First Nations use of medicinal plants. The workshop brought together a diverse group of 20 individuals who used plants grown in the garden to explore medicinal applications and receive traditional knowledge. Further workshops are already in the works, and the courtyard has seen frequent use as a social gathering place as well.

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be a barrier to healthy living for residents of our Northern communities, but groups like the Burns Lake Community Garden Society are working to change that. By growing their communities, they make them stronger, healthier, and more resilient. With a new greenhouse installed in 2018 as well, the BLCGS is excited about an extended growing season and the opportunity to provide local food to their community year-round. The IMAGINE Community Grants program is proud to support this and other projects that make our communities healthy! 

Have an idea that could make your community a healthier place? The Spring 2019 intake of the IMAGINE Community Grants program opens March 1, 2019. Visit the IMAGINE Grant page today!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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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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Team health care shines in Dawson Creek – because a patient spoke up

The outside of Dawson Creek and District Hospital.

When interprofessional health care teams, emergency rooms, and patients all work together, the result can be great health care. A case in point: a recent story from Dawson Creek.

While he was at the Dawson Creek emergency room for another concern, a patient — let’s call him “Fred”* — asked for a hepatitis B vaccine. Fred also made sure the nurse knew that the interprofessional health care team was involved in his care. This was a key step in ensuring he got the best care.

The emergency department then called the health care team to see if they could get the vaccine for Fred right away, so he wouldn’t have to book a separate appointment.

The answer from the interprofessional health care team was “Yes!” A public health resource nurse working with the team took the vaccine across the street to the emergency department, then helped the ER nurse give it to Fred.

Note: Given that Fred has unique health concerns, this approach made sense for his specific case – but normally, people who need immunizations should book them through their local health unit.

“This spoke to the client engaging in his own health care,” said Deanna Thomas, Manager of Community Services in Dawson Creek. “It shows the value of building relationships with clients so they feel empowered to speak up.”

Patients are a huge part of the solution in health care – high-fives to Fred for making sure the emergency department had all the facts, and to the emergency department and the health care team for their collaboration and quick response!

*Not his real name – identifying details have been changed.

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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Westbound with Northern Health Connections: A testimonial on riding the bus

A selfie of Fiona on the bus.

When I moved to the Communications department of Northern Health, I was very excited to take on the Northern Health Connections (NHC) program as part of my portfolio. If you’re not familiar with NHC, it’s Northern Health’s bus transportation service for medical appointments: if you have a medical appointment that requires you to travel to Vancouver but you live in Dawson Creek, you’re able to ride a NHC shuttle to and fro. It’s safe, comfy, and very affordable. I had heard all about this service, but what better way to find out what it’s all about than taking the bus myself! So, in the interest of discovery, I recently rode the bus for the first time: Prince George to Smithers, let’s go!

My trip began at a very convenient spot – the University Hospital of Northern BC entrance, where I was greeted by a cheerful driver named Arlene. Arlene was very helpful and extremely courteous. I took my seat in row 2, which I jokingly called “business class,” because trust me, that will be the closest I come to travelling business class! 

On this trip, there were around 18 people on the bus, two of which were seniors. Did you know that if you’re 60 or older, you are able to take the bus without a medical referral? If you’re planning a trip and unsure of who can ride, check out our passenger eligibility requirements.

We promptly left the hospital at 8:02 am heading west. It was pretty crazy to see a shuttle depart relatively on time, but I could tell it was important to the driver to stay on schedule, which is a great feeling as a passenger. If you do use NHC in the future, make sure you arrive at least 15-20 minutes early so the bus can leave at the scheduled time. We hate to see an unfilled seat!

Now, I’ve spent my fair share of time on buses. I have two boys that play hockey, so my husband and I take turns riding the bus with them. Let me tell you, this was nothing like riding the hockey bus! First of all, the noise level on a hockey bus is so loud you can barely hear yourself think. The only noise on this Connections bus was the adorable little seven-year-old that had us all watching Ella Enchanted. What a lovely change of pace, and more importantly, noise level, from the hockey trips I’m so used to!

We drove right through Vanderhoof; no pickups there! Next stop: Fraser Lake. A quick five minute stop here to drop off Red Cross Equipment, a great perk that NHC offers. I also loved the fact that the buses have tray tables and seatbelts. In this day and age, not too many buses have these extra features. It makes a big difference for comfort in the long run!

We then hit our first real stop – Burns Lake. Time to visit the convenience store for snacks, get a bathroom break, or grab a quick lunch. Within 10 minutes, everyone was back on the bus, happy and full, which proved to me this little break was just the right amount of time.

Now, back on the road, we were headed to Smithers! Everyone with full bellies, it was again fairly quiet on the bus. We made a quick stop in Telkwa to drop off two passengers. Then, 10 minutes out of Smithers, our patient, courteous driver offered to drop me off at my hotel instead of making me walk the 20 minute trek from the hospital. Wow, I was so impressed! I gave Arlene a huge thank you and wished her a Merry Christmas!

All in all, the trip went by very fast. There weren’t too many stops, it was very comfortable, and I was able to just sit back and relax. If you have to make a trip for a medical appointment, I’d recommend you try NHC! I would take the bus again in a heartbeat!

Fiona MacPherson

About Fiona MacPherson

Fiona MacPherson was born in Glasgow Scotland, but has spent most of her life in Prince George. She's spent the majority of her career at Northern Health in the IMIT department as a Project Manager, but most recently moved into the Communications department as the Lead for Northern Health Connections and Special Projects. Fiona loves to volunteer in her community and can be found at the local hockey arenas on the weekends watching both her boys play hockey.

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Adulting 101: Walking safely in winter

Haylee waiting to cross a street with a reflective item on her bag.

Sometimes it’s good to get a refresher on how to “adult” and do the basics – such as walking safely! For those of you not familiar with the term adulting, the Oxford dictionary says it’s “the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.”

For most of us, walking is a necessary task – but what does that mean in the winter time? Along with snowflakes and shoveling, it means darker days and less visibility when out walking or driving. Did you know that nearly half (43%) of all crashes with pedestrians happen in the fall and winter as conditions get worse?

As someone who walks to work, this fact really struck a chord with me. Was I doing everything I could to make sure I was walking safely to and from work? I was able to get some road safety advice from ICBC that I want to share with you. Here are their five tips for walking safer in winter.

Five tips for walking safely in winter:

  1. Be careful at intersections – watch for drivers turning left or right through the crosswalk. I always check before I cross. Drivers may be focused on oncoming traffic and not see you. I’ve had close calls as both a pedestrian and a driver so be safe and check before you cross!
  2. Don’t jaywalk – I know it’s tempting but always use crosswalks and follow the pedestrian signs and traffic signals. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  3. Make eye contact with drivers, as it’s hard to see pedestrians when visibility is poor in fall and winter. I go by this rule when crossing the street: if I can’t see the driver’s eyeballs, I don’t cross! Never assume that a driver has seen you.
  4. Remove your headphones and take a break from your phone while crossing the road. One thing I love about walking to work is that it gives me time to listen to a podcast or some good tunes. That said, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you, especially when crossing the street! Unplug and pay attention when you cross!
  5. Be as reflective as possible to make it easier for drivers to see you in wet weather, at dusk, and at night. On dark walks home, I wear blinking lights (I attach bike lights to my satchel!) and wear reflective accessories so drivers can see me.

What do you do to make sure you’re “adulting” well and walking safely in dark conditions? Leave your tips in the comments below! Stay safe and happy walking!

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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Facility engagement removes silos, improves teamwork in the North

Article submitted by Doctors of BC.

A group of stakeholders at the Change Day event at UHNBC.
Change Day at UHNBC – a group of stakeholders.

Facility Engagement is a provincial initiative of the Specialist Services Committee that aims to strengthen relationships and engagement between health authorities and facility-based physicians, to improve the shared work environment and the delivery of patient care.

Dr. John Smith, Past President of Medical Staff at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) and an internal medicine specialist, has been a significant contributor to the work of Facility Engagement since its inception, both as a local physician leader and as a member of the provincial Specialist Services Committee (SSC) Facility Engagement Provincial Working Group.  

Dr. Smith says that the initiative is already fixing some challenges at UNHBC. He noted that administrators are responsible for making budgetary and policy decisions, while doctors are responsible for delivering the expenditure through patient care. “Yet none of the groups were talking to each other,” he says, “which quite obviously was not leading to useful results.”

He says that as a solution, facility engagement has created opportunities and incentives for increased teamwork between the doctors and administrators, who no longer work in isolation. Benefits are already showing in the areas of patient care, physician communication, and relationships with staff and administration.

One example involves solving the difficulties of getting adequate physician coverage for hospitalized patients, because GPs need to return to their individual family practices after morning hospital rounds and may be unable to return later in the day if needed. This is a common challenge at hospitals where GPs see inpatients.

“If the physician is only at the hospital between 8 am and 10 am,” says Dr. Smith, “it’s very hard for teamwork, planning and multidisciplinary rounds to occur. As a solution, we consulted with physicians and Northern Health to establish a general internal medicine unit. It’s a completely new structure developed to foster internal medical care, co-led by a doctor and an administrator.”

Under this unit, internists were recruited to look after the needs of hospitalized patients, and take pressures off of other GPs. The internist is able to make multiple rounds of patient visits, and address urgent concerns when needed in the middle of the day. With clear benefits for patient care, Northern Health was more than happy to collaborate on the project, and fund and sustain the new unit. “It’s simply a better system. The patients who are sick are looked after in a better way,” says Dr. Smith.

Another area of change he emphasized as a result of facility engagement has been improvements in physician communication. For example, internists and family doctors felt that each did not understand the other group’s pressures and needs. “With the help of Facility Engagement, they came together, expressed their concerns and agreed on a set of rules. They have found they have greatly improved communication and collaboration.”

A third area of improved collaboration is within the general hospital community, including staff and administration. Last fall, the entire hospital community convened a “Change Day” in which physicians came together with staff and pledged to change something in the hospital for the better.

“For the first time, something like this happened in Prince George and it was very successful,” says Dr. Smith. A total of 296 pledges were collected, placing Prince George fifth in the province. The main outcome of the event was broad collaboration.

Now that internal collaboration is becoming more firmly established in UNHBC, plans are under way to broaden collaborative efforts through a planning session for all hospitals in the region. “At the moment, Prince George has a lot of effect on Fort St. John, for example,” says Dr. Smith, “but the latter has no real say in Prince George.”

Dr. Smith says that facility engagement is a “very sensible initiative. It has increased the number of physicians who are active in hospital improvements and activities. If you told me three years ago that we’d have 40 per cent of physicians involved, I’d say ’no way’, but it is happening.”

And even though he’s retiring soon, Dr. Smith says that with the exciting opportunities that this initiative has created, “I would love to be starting again!”

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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