Healthy Living in the North

Hemodialysis Collaboration During the 2017 Wildfires

A group of hemodialysis staff.On July 8, 2017 the hemodialysis unit at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) in Prince George received a call from the charge nurse at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake. The town had been placed on evacuation alert due to the wildfires, and they may need to transfer 18 patients to Prince George. That call started a sequence of events which brought together two hemodialysis units from different health authorities and showcased the collaboration and dedication of health care practitioners.

Later on July 8, Iqwinder Mangat, the head nurse for hemodialysis, spoke with a director at Interior Health where she learned that transferring the patients to Prince George was plan B, and Kamloops was their plan A. A teleconference at 6:30pm on July 9 confirmed that they were proceeding with plan B and 18 hemodialysis patients were being evacuated to Prince George. An evacuate order for Williams Lake was imminent and they needed to evacuate patients as soon as possible.

By the time Mangat got off the teleconference call, the hemodialysis unit at UHNBC was already closed. She came in to the unit to look at the patient schedule for the next day to free up spots for the Williams Lake patients. A renal tech also came in to assist with moving dialysis supplies to prepare for the additional patients. The next morning, Mangat received calls from the Williams Lake patients to schedule their dialysis treatments, and they were slotted into available spots. Their quick thinking and planning made it so all scheduled patient treatments could carry on as normal.

The hemodialysis unit at UHNBC welcomed staff deployed from the Cariboo Memorial Hospital hemodialysis unit to work with them on the unit. Due to the difference in dialysis machines used in the two hospitals, they first had to undergo training on the machines. Once the Williams Lake nurses were comfortable using the machines, one UHNBC nurse was paired with them to help troubleshoot and support the Williams Lake staff.

By moving UHNBC patients into the main room and moving overflow patients to the Parkwood Independent Dialysis Unit, they set up a small dialysis unit within the hemodialysis unit operating five chairs from 7:00am – 7:00pm to support the Williams Lake patients. Accompanied by one UHNBC nurse, the nurses from Williams Lake staffed the unit, allowing them to work with patients they were familiar with. It was a welcome sight for both staff and patients and brought back a sense of normalcy in such a stressful time.

The entire team worked together collaboratively and offered support and assistance where they could. Managers took on administrative duties, emergency operation centre meetings, and HR tasks usually designated to clinical practice leads or head nurses. Nursing unit clerks were shared between the kidney clinic and hemodialysis unit, and staff were more than willing to work extra shifts when needed to ensure patients were receiving treatments.

Numerous staff and physicians brought in food, cards, flowers, and treats to thank everyone for their contributions and make the Williams Lake nurses feel welcome and part of the team. Staff’s extra support and dedication helped to make the hemodialysis unit function effectively despite the additional patients and pressures. They were willing to cancel vacation, work overtime, assist other facilitates, and work together in any way they could.

One telephone call changed the entire course of the 2017 summer for the hemodialysis staff, managers, and physicians. They welcomed 18 additional patients, and new staff all within a matter of days with no disruption to services. It demonstrated the strength of their resolve and showcased their collaborative nature, and was an experience that left a lasting impression on everyone involved.

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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Happy retirement to Fort Nelson Head Nurse Betty Asher

Headshot of Betty Asher.For 38 years, Betty Asher has been a constant presence at the Fort Nelson Hospital as the nurse manager, caring for staff and patients. At the end of March, Betty closed this chapter of her life and retired from Northern Health.

Born in the Philippines, Betty and her family moved to Vancouver in 1966 when her father was appointed as a diplomat to Canada. Her parents, sister and two brothers all moved to Canada on 4 year diplomatic passports. Living in Canada was a shock to the system for Betty. Not only was the weather colder than she was used to, but adapting to the different culture proved challenging. Betty was not equipped for the cold Canadian winters only owning jackets designed for the warm Philippines climate.

Betty started her career as a registered nurse in 1967 by enrolling in the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) nursing program. This provided an opportunity for her to make friends and immerse herself in Canadian culture. After completing nursing school, Betty was able to apply for a work visa, and later obtain Canadian citizenship. From 1971 – 1979 she worked as a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital on a surgical floor caring for patients and increasing her nursing knowledge and experience.

Betty welcomed her first child, daughter Leah, in 1976, followed by her son Jason in 1979. Betty’s parents, and two younger brothers moved to Ottawa so her father could progress his diplomatic career in the nation’s capital, while her sister went on to become a doctor.

Betty began her career Fort Nelson in 1980 when she moved there with her former husband so he could pursue business opportunities in the area. Fort Nelson quickly became home to Betty and her family. She became the consistent face at the hospital while they transitioned through a variety of administrators during her 38 years there. Betty was responsible for 27 staff at the hospital, a majority of which have been there for anywhere between 30 and 5 years.

Betty has had many accomplishments during her time in Fort Nelson that she is proud of including the development of the home support program, home care program and diabetes educator role. All of which are still going strong to this day and have contributed to delivering quality health care to the citizens of Fort Nelson. She was also instrumental in changing the pediatric unit to a multilevel unit, the chemotherapy program, and the integration of the interprofessional team.

Ensuring a sense of community at the hospital was always important to Betty. Whether it be the Christmas craft fair, raffles, spring events, or potluck dinners at the multilevel care facility. Workplace culture at the hospital was a priority for her as was ensuring the involvement of patients and their families in events and gatherings. Betty also spent time as the Chairman of the Hospice Society in Fort Nelson that has raised lots of money over the years, furthering her contributions to the community.

For 25 years, Betty was married to Dr. Ayalew (Al) Kassa until he passed away in 2013. A native of Africa, Dr. Kassa was only anticipating staying in Fort Nelson for 6 months, but ended up staying until his passing. They had a strong love of travelling, classical music, cooking, golfing, and the community of Fort Nelson.

Retirement is not going to slow Betty down, but instead may keep her even busier. She is scheduled for a knee replacement in Vancouver, and after she has recovered, she is planning on traveling to Africa to see family in Ethiopia, and visit the continent she has fallen in love with. She will continue living in Fort Nelson and will also spend time at her second home in Vernon and visiting her daughter Leah in Sicamous. Betty would like to take piano lessons to further advance her existing musical talents.

On behalf of everyone that has had the pleasure of working with Betty over the years, we wish her well in her retirement and are excited for her to embark on this new phase in her life.

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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What captured your attention this year? Top 10 blog posts of 2016!

Photo collage of pictures from stories featured in article

Which article was your favourite?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love year-end “best of” or “top 10” lists!

Not only are they a fun way to discover great stories, books, recipes, songs, movies, or whatever else you might want, but they reveal something neat about our collective interests.

So, what captured our readers’ attention and imagination in 2016? It’s an eclectic mix that includes stories of northern health care providers and northern families, expert tips and recipes for the outdoors, a beautiful video about Haida and Tsimshian Nations culture, and more!

Here they are: the 10 most-read blog posts from the Northern Health Matters blog in 2016!

#10: Loving yourself: Be bold, be beautiful, be brave!

#9: Foodie Friday: A hiker’s power food

#8: Foodie Friday goes camping! Eating well & tantalizing taste buds in the backcountry

#7: Pumping iron: First foods for building strong babies

#6: A video from North Coast First Nations for health care providers

#5: Staff profile: Licensing officer Lisa Rice shares her thoughts on quality child care

#4: Setting SMART goals

#3: Congratulations to NH’s newest Health Care Hero, Barb Crook

#2: “I always knew that I would come back to nursing”: Richelle’s story

#1: “The village helped to raise our child”: A Smithers family reflects

Thank you for reading in 2016! We look forward to sharing more stories with you in 2017!

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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Tammy Rizmayer: Everyday Champion

Photo of Tammy Rizmayer

Tammy Rizmayer goes above and beyond for the patients she works with and is now one of four finalists for this year’s BC Patient Safety & Quality Council’s Everyday Champion Award!

Meet Tammy Rizmayer, one of four finalists for this year’s BC Patient Safety & Quality Council’s Everyday Champion Award. The award celebrates an individual who shows a passion and commitment for improving quality of care, even though his or her role does not necessarily specify participation in quality improvement activities or leadership responsibilities. You can help Tammy win the Everyday Champion Award by voting for her, which I’m sure you’ll want to do after reading about the impact she’s making to northerners in B.C.

Based out of UHNBC in Prince George, Tammy has been the Renal Social Worker for Northern Health’s regional renal program since 2009. In her role, Tammy works with patients suffering from kidney disease and their families, many of whom live outside of Prince George and on low incomes. To reduce the financial burden of travel to Prince George and Vancouver, Tammy has partnered with accommodation and travel providers to help patients and their families travel to and from medical appointments at a reduced cost. She was also instrumental in establishing a $25,000 bursary fund that helps patients overcome travel cost barriers. Tammy is a tremendous resource for her patients as they navigate the medical system.

I had the pleasure of talking to Tammy about what motivates her to be such a positive influence on the lives of her patients:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Quesnel and my family moved to Prince George when I was 5. I have been in the social work field for almost 30 years. I am married and have a daughter and a one-year-old grandson. I enjoy reading and my husband and I are avid snowboarders and skiers and we love ocean fishing.

I began my career as a home support worker and taught parenting skills to at-risk families. I joined Northern Health in 2007 and worked in a variety of departments. I started working in the renal department six years ago. My goal is to ensure that the patients we serve have the services and supports in place to keep them out of the hospital and off dialysis for as long as possible. I get to follow patients through the journey of their illness – from chronic kidney disease, through dialysis, and then through to post-transplant when they return from Vancouver. It’s amazing to see the difference in the quality of people’s lives post-transplant.

What inspired you to get involved in the work that you are doing?

My mom was a big influence for me getting involved in the social work field. She was a single mom raising four children and pursued her degree in social work. She was an instructor in the Social Services program at the College of New Caledonia and taught and mentored me and many of my colleagues. I was also impacted by the people that I worked with in my home support role and wanted to make a difference in their lives. I wanted to advocate for and support people that I was working with and saw getting my social work degree as a way to show them that someone was on their side and wanted them to be successful and healthy.

I’m continually inspired by the patients that I work with and I learn as much from them as they do from me. They are the experts in their own health and their medical condition. They are living their journey and need to tell us what is going on, and we use our expertise to support them.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your career and how have you dealt with them?

I deal with patients who are dying and I need to support patients in the clinic who have experienced that loss. Our patients develop close relationships, seeing each other multiple times a week over a number of years, and when a patient dies it has a significant impact on the other patients in the clinic, as well as the staff. It is also difficult to manage the information sharing when someone dies, as confidentiality does not allow us to share that information in the clinic. We have an excellent team of caregivers within the renal team and social work team, and we all look out for and take care of each other.

(Editor’s note –As we were speaking, Tammy realized there was an opportunity for improving the process of sharing information and she plans to work towards improving this process!)

What does being nominated as an Everyday Champion mean to you?

It means that people are recognizing that I love my job and the patients that I work with. It is quite humbling that I am being recognized this way. To have a formal recognition of my work warms my heart. Every one of my colleagues does an extraordinary job and it feels odd to be singled out when you are a member of such a great group of professionals.

If you had to choose one reason for going above and beyond, what would it be?

For me, it’s asking “how can I give back to the patients that I work with and how can I make a difference and be a positive presence in someone’s life?”

What advice do you have for someone who wants to go above and beyond to provide quality care for our patients?

Be genuine and do it for the right reasons. If you want to go above and beyond, you should not care if anyone notices what you are doing. If you are doing it because it is the right thing to do, recognition should not play a part in why you are doing it.

She may not desire recognition, but she certainly deserves it! Support Tammy as the Everyday Champion by voting on the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council website. You can vote every day, once on every device you have!

Marlene Apolczer

About Marlene Apolczer

Marlene is the Quality Improvement Lead for the Northern Interior and is based in Prince George. Marlene is a longtime health care employee and worked in a number of program areas before bringing all of her knowledge and experience to her current role. When she is not working, you can usually find Marlene in a school gymnasium or hockey arena cheering on her teenage sons!

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Staff profile: Shelly Crack

Certificate presented to staff person.

Shelly Crack recently celebrated 10 years of service with Northern Health!

In every issue of A Healthier You, I have the pleasure of profiling a member of Northern Health’s amazing and diverse staff team. For our recent issue on local food, one name kept popping up when I was looking across our vast region for staff members with a passion in this area: Shelly Crack, a community dietitian on Haida Gwaii.

Shelly is a champion of local food who, amongst other things, works with local schools to support students to grow, harvest, prepare, and eat healthy, local food. She recently celebrated ten years of service with Northern Health and was also recently presented, along with fellow Northern Health staff member Christopher Horner, with a 2015 Citizen of the Year Award by the Masset Haida Lions Club.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to connect with Shelly to learn more about her interest in local food, her life on Haida Gwaii, and the programs that she supports. This profile was originally published in the May 2015 issue of A Healthier You.


Family photo

Shelly’s family values growing, gathering, and eating local food.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Northern Health.

For the last 10 years, I have been a community dietitian on Haida Gwaii. This is my first job out of school and I love it! After seven years of travelling and working between Hazelton and Haida Gwaii, I settled on the north end of Haida Gwaii where I currently live with my wife, our two children and an incredible community of friends.

Amongst other things that I do as the community dietitian, about five years ago I began to connect with the provincial Farm to School program. Through that program, we connect directly with local producers to bring food grown, harvested, gathered, and hunted on Haida Gwaii into schools. At this point, every school on island is engaged with Local Food to School and some schools have local ingredients included in every menu item.

We recently received a Healthy Communities grant from Northern Health to grow this program. We’ll be able to bring local, traditional food into the hospital for special events, continue to support local hot lunch and experiential learning programs, and create a local food pantry in Masset where local food can be sourced, sold, processed, preserved, and distributed to food programs.

In addition to being the community dietitian, I also coordinate the chronic disease management program in Masset. Working in both of these roles is motivating because as a dietitian, I work directly with individuals with chronic disease and with the local food system aiming to improve nutrition of the entire community. For me, healthy, local, sustainable food is one of the key tools that we have to combat chronic illness.

Family in a kayak

During a three-week paddling trip of Gwaii Haanas National Park, Shelly, her wife, and two year old daughter dehydrated 21 days’ worth of food – most of which came from their garden!

What are some of the best features of Haida Gwaii and the north coast that support local food?

Local food is deeply valued on Haida Gwaii – it is one of the reasons why people live here! It is so amazing to see how my interest and passion for local food is matched with other peoples’ energy. The local food movement is happening island-wide and so many people – the Haida, local fisheries, teachers, students and others – are involved in bringing local food programs to life. There’s just so much momentum!

This is also a beautiful place for food! There are hundreds of pounds of chanterelles in our forests and an amazing bounty of fish and seafood. When I was pregnant with my son, my wife, two year old daughter and I paddled in Gwaii Haanas National Park. The trek took us three weeks and to prepare, we dehydrated 21 days’ worth of food, most of it taken right from our garden. We fished and ate locally the whole way!

Two plates with local food items

Mushrooms, berries, and bountiful fish and seafood are just some of the local food options on Haida Gwaii, “a beautiful place for food”, where local food is deeply valued.

What do you do to live a healthy life?

My family values growing, gathering, and eating food but in addition to local food, I stay active. Whether it’s biking to work, walking on the beach, practising yoga, kayaking, or camping on weekends, I love the peacefulness that sets Haida Gwaii apart from busy centres.

My community also supports my health. My family shares land, a garden, food preparation, and child care responsibilities with another family. This co-operative support and strong social connectedness on Haida Gwaii supports health.

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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