When we’re changing in health care, we’re saving lives

VCH’s Board Chair Kip Woodward, closed off 2017 by sharing this message of appreciation for physicians, staff and volunteers in the form of an op-ed, published in The Vancouver Sun on December 23, 2017. We’re starting the New Year right by sharing his words directly with you, and celebrating all that we achieved together in 2017, and setting the stage to make recognition and appreciation the norm throughout 2018.

At a recent Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) Open Forum, a member of the public approached me and offered this observation, “Seems all I read about in VCH lately is drugs.”

Looking at health headlines in 2017 it seemed there was only one health story — opioids, fentanyl, and overdose deaths. But there are equally big stories taking place outside the media glare, stories that reveal innovation and commitment and, while quieter, are vital to everyone in VCH. Vital to our 2,100 doctors, our 13,500 unionized and excluded staff, our 3,000 volunteers, and to the province.

Kip Woodward, Board Chair, Vancouver Coastal Health.

In fairness to the person at the forum, our response to the drug crisis typifies how we respond to any health crisis. While the B.C. Coroner estimates that 90 percent of illicit drug overdose deaths take place indoors, there have been no deaths at supervised consumption or drug-overdose prevention sites. Government and partner agencies have opened 20 overdose-prevention sites to date, expanded supervised injectable opioid-assisted therapies, and opened shared using rooms in social-housing buildings to encourage drug users not to use alone. We’re also leading the way with a portable machine at Insite and Powell Street Getaway that allows people to analyze street drugs for life-threatening contaminants such as fentanyl.

While the crisis is not confined to our province — or country — we should be proud that B.C. leads the way in overdose-death prevention, and those overdose-prevention sites allow users to get connected to treatment when they’re ready. It’s a B.C.-led innovation that is saving lives.

The crisis has again brought the best from VCH doctors, nurses, researchers, employees, and volunteers. It’s an intense focus and a change from the past. But in health care, change and how we react to it saves lives. The reality of British Columbia’s health system is that change is a constant — and patients and families benefit as a result.

One example is the shift to primary and community care. Under the leadership of the B.C. Government, VCH and other health authorities are refocusing how we meet the care needs of our communities by creating networks of multi-disciplinary health professionals. The objective is better access. Bring care to where people need it, improve their access to physician services and, ultimately, tackle the challenges of waiting lists for specialist and surgical services.

We are, of course, always innovating and looking to invest in ways to improve access and care within our publicly funded health system. In August, the Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre opened for patients. It’s an $82 million facility at Vancouver General Hospital that brings mental health services — both inpatient and outpatient — under one roof. Clients get the treatment, programs, and skills they need to resume life in the community — safely and successfully. The facility has 100 private rooms and is a world away from what older mental health facilities look and feel like.

In September, Foundry North Shore — a one-stop facility for young people ages 12 to 24 — opened in North Vancouver, bringing 15 services under one roof. The site is also home to a unique ‘peer program’ where people who have experienced problems work with staff. As one young person who struggled with suicidal thoughts and mental health issues told us, “Youth in crisis don’t have time to make appointments and wait for referrals. I would encourage young people who feel like something is wrong to get help.” A change in health care delivery saved that life, and it’s now saving lives all the time.

Meanwhile, work is underway on the third floor of the Jim Pattison Pavilion at VGH in one of the most complex hospital expansions in B.C. Usually, such expansions take place as an add-on tower or building. But this $102-million project is an “add-in” project, with 16 new state-of-the-art operating rooms to replace 30-year-old rooms that are now too small to accommodate the new technology and equipment that has so improved patient outcomes and saves so many lives.

So yes, that person at the Open Forum was correct. There has been much focus on opioids, fentanyl, and overdose deaths. But it’s just a part of the tremendous change in our health system, from how it’s managed to what it does for patients. As we look toward 2018, we know patients want better and more equitable access. VCH and the other health authorities save lives by constantly changing, adapting, and innovating. How we treat and care for our patients is crucial, and the work to improve treatment and access never stops.

B.C.’s health authorities will continue to lead and innovate in 2018, and share these innovations with each other, to save lives. And while parts of the world retreat and look inward, our doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers will continue to cast a wide eye for the programs, treatments, and best practices arising from innovation in jurisdictions far and wide, which will ensure VCH remains focused on delivering accessible, world-class treatment and care in all our communities.

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