A patient in Bella Bella gets a routine ultrasound at a new clinic that started in early November in the remote Central Coast community. The clinic dramatically reduces the need for patients to travel to Vancouver for the service.

Bella Bella patients, physicians overjoyed with new ultrasound clinic

Imagine you’re pregnant and require a routine or urgent ultrasound, but to get one means taking two or three days off work or leaving family and supports behind and hopping on a plane to get to Vancouver where you then have to find your way to an ultrasound clinic.

That has been the norm for residents in the remote First Nations community of Bella Bella – until now.

Thanks to a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health and the Hailika’as Heiltsuk Health Centre (HHHC), a new ultrasound clinic means residents in the small Central Coast community can receive this service locally. This is especially significant for pre-natal and maternal care, including abdominal, pelvis, extremity, and renal imaging.

VCH provided R.W. Large Memorial Hospital and Bella Bella Medical Clinic with ultrasound equipment, but it needed an ultrasound (U/S) technician to bring the clinic to life.

So VCH partnered with the HHHC to bring a tech up to the community to do an ultrasound clinic on site. The goal is to have the clinic run for three days monthly. The centre supported flying an ultrasound tech to Bella Bella and provided accommodation. The future plan is to have the health centre also assist with the clerical needs required for the U/S services at the Bella Bella Medical Clinic.

VCH services team up for success

VCH funds the tech position and houses the ultrasound clinic at the hospital (next to the Bella Bella Medical Clinic).

Many stakeholders were involved in bringing this project to fruition. On site in Bella Bella Dr. Laurie-Ann Shearer, Medical Director, Dega Hersi, Clinic Supervisor, Sherry Carpenter-Beggs, LPN (reprocessed equipment), and Janet Titanich, CXLT worked closely with our offsite team, Marina McBride, Rural Projects Leader and William Findlay, Director, Central Coast along with VCH Legal and Contracts team.

“The team pulled this together in a short period of time combining our efforts with the Hailika’as Heiltsuk Health Centre Director Keith Marshall,” says Gary Housty, Manager Clinical Services. “It is a win-win for the community and patients that reside on the Central Coast.”

Dr. Shearer says the clinic has been “a resounding success.”

“For the patients it was the opportunity to save personal time,” says Lauri Ann. “As one patient told me: ‘Going to Vancouver for an appointment is a hassle. It’s a two to three day journey for a test that only takes a half hour.  I have better uses for my time.  Having this ultrasound in Bella Bella only took 45 minutes out of my day.  This is way more efficient.  If I had to go to Vancouver for this test, I probably would have cancelled it or delayed it, because I really could not take two or three days off work again.’”

Clinic a unique collaboration between FNHA and VCH

The collaboration between VCH and the First Nations Health Authority/HHCC is unique and one of the first initiatives of this kind between the two health authorities.

“The HHHC have been in discussion with R. W. Large Memorial Hospital for a few years to determine what services could be brought to the community that would give our community better access to services without having to travel to a major centre,” says Keith. “Ultrasound services was one area that could be implemented without too much difficulty. A greater number of people can now be served in a shorter period of time. The new service also helps reduce the high cost of travel that pressures our patient travel budget.”

Prenatal patients were especially thrilled in being able to share their ultrasound experience with their partners and family. A total of 36 patients were scanned over four days early in November, at a patient travel cost savings of $60,000.

Physicians are equally thrilled to have another diagnostic tool at their disposal.

“Now they have the ability to fit in urgent patients while the sonographer is in town,” says Lauri Ann. “When we were sending patients to different ultrasound facilities all over Vancouver, it was difficult to keep track of who had been completed, who was still pending etc.  Often results were not available for up to one week.  Now I know when the ultrasound will take place and I know that I will have a final report within 24 hours.”

“I could not have asked for a better system and I look forward to our next clinic in January, which is already half filled.”




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