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Category "Health"

17Jan

Most Canadians favour smoking ban in multi-family buildings: poll

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Practically nine-in-ten Canadians agree with banning smoking in indoor public spaces, public transit facilities and workplaces.


Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Most Canadians are in favour of prohibiting residents from smoking in apartment buildings and condominiums, a new Research Co. poll has found.

An online survey found that almost seven-in-ten Canadians (72 per cent) support banning smoking (tobacco and marijuana) in multi-family buildings, while one-in-four (25 per cent) are opposed to the prohibition.

Almost 74 per cent of women supported the ban as did Canadians aged 55 and above. About 75 per cent of  Quebecers and 74 per cent British Columbians were also in favour.

The poll also found that more than two thirds of Canadians agree with the federal government’s decision to implement plain and standardized tobacco packaging. This was one of several areas covered by Bill C-5, which also established guidelines for vaping products.

Almost 90 per cent per cent of Canadians agree with banning smoking in indoor public spaces, public transit facilities and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos.

Additionally, three-in-four Canadians also agree with banning smoking in private vehicles occupied by children.

“The regulations that have been in place for years to deal with smoking across Canada remain popular,” said Mario Canseco, President of Research Co. “There is a high level of support for bringing multi-family dwellings to the list of places where people should not be allowed to smoke.”

The survey was conducted earlier this month among 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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16Jan

Bolt drilled through a skull is rescuing patients with brain injuries

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Dr. Mypinder Sekhon demonstrates catheters and the new brain bolt that were used in a life-saving procedure at VGH in Vancouver, BC, Jan. 16, 2019.


Arlen Redekop / PNG

Brad Baylis doesn’t remember anything about the day last summer when he hit a moose while driving in northern B.C.

Indeed, everything the Prince George man knows about his close brush with death — not to mention the entire month afterward — he’s pieced together from friends, family and medical professionals who saved his life after the moose crashed through his windshield, sending Baylis careening into a ditch and trapped in his vehicle.

Baylis, 39, and the moose would be extricated from the vehicle and he would be airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital on life support. While he was in the intensive-care unit for a month, plastic surgeons would spend 10 hours perfectly reconstructing his shattered face and intensive-care specialists would make Baylis the first patient to get a new procedure called brain microdialysis.


Undated handout photo of Bradley Baylis and girlfriend Carla Lewis. Bradley Baylis of Prince George hit a moose near Fraser lake in 2018.

Nikola Bennett /

PNG

With Baylis on the verge of dying from his traumatic brain injury, Dr. Mypinder Sekhon and colleagues deployed newly acquired tools that allowed them to frequently monitor Baylis’s brain-tissue chemistry so they could tailor the amount of glucose and other metabolic supplements he needed intravenously. They were also able to do real-time monitoring of oxygen and blood-pressure levels in his brain to deliver medications with doses tailored to his condition rather than giving standardized doses.

“The impact with the moose caused major hemorrhaging in his brain and he was suffocating from a lack of oxygen while emergency crews were extricating him from the vehicle,” said Sekhon. “It was a horrible, horrible injury with diffuse swelling throughout his brain. Often with this kind of swelling, brain death will ensue. We had no option other than to try the bolt.”

The lumen (hollowed-out) bolt and accompanying disposable instruments are medical devices developed and manufactured by a Swedish company and, until recently, used mainly in research settings at Cambridge University in the U.K.

Neurologists drill a one-centimetre hole into the skull to place the bolt, which then allows doctors to pass a catheter through it so they can collect and analyze biochemical markers of brain activity (glucose, lactate and glutamate, among them).


Undated handout photo of Bradley Baylis in VGH.

Nikola Bennett /

PNG

The data is fed into an analyzer that gives a digital reading and then medical teams can adjust the amount of oxygen, glucose and nutrients that comatose and other brain-injured patients need to not only recover, but also to avoid permanent disabilities.

“It’s changed the way we prognosticate,” said Sekhon. “We can get a better idea of the disease process inside a patient’s brain. Before this, we would fly blind, essentially. You can give too much glucose and other supplements or not enough. Using this technique, we are now able to optimize the brain’s metabolism and personalize the care of the patient.”

Drilling holes into patients’ skulls is an admittedly invasive procedure that carries a small (0.5-per-cent) risk of infection or bleeding, but at VGH, microdialysis has been used so far on five patients, including Baylis (in the past five months), and four of them have recovered. (The fifth succumbed to the brain injury.)

After being in the ICU for a month, Baylis was then transferred to G.F. Strong for rehabilitation. He is overcome with emotion when he talks about the physical therapists there who helped him walk again, his girlfriend Carla Lewis, family members and doctors like Sekhon — all of whom “never gave up on me.”

While he hasn’t yet been cleared to return to his job as a welder, the father of three is incredulous that he’s been able to almost completely recover from a brain injury as severe as the one he had.


Dr. Mypinder Sekhon demonstrates catheters and the new brain bolt that were used in a life-saving procedure at VGH in Vancouver, BC, Jan. 16, 2019.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

He hasn’t yet resumed driving and he’s in no rush to get back behind the wheel. When he got out of G.F. Strong a few months ago, he took the Northern Health bus back to Prince George and it was a trip that could have been terrifying and traumatizing but Baylis managed to take it in stride:

“During the latter part of the trip, the bus driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a moose. When you live in this area, you know this sort of thing is going to happen at some point. I don’t know if this last incident was luck or fate, but you have to respect moose, they are amazing animals.”

Sekhon says that when Baylis was airlifted to VGH he thought Baylis had only a 10-per-cent chance of surviving. But after a week, he came out of the coma and credits the new microdialysis tools for making the difference with his recovery. While the microdialysis tools are insanely expensive — startup costs of up to $500,000, then costs of up to $10,000 each time the suite of tools are used on patients — they would appear to be true lifesavers.

VGH is the only hospital in Canada using the microdialysis protocol and one of only a handful of hospitals around the world using it. A hospital in Calgary tried it for a while, but Sekhon said it became too expensive so it was abandoned. At VGH, donors to the hospital’s foundation covered initial acquisition fees, but now the costs are absorbed into the hospital’s annual operating budget.

Only in the last few years have specialists like Sekhon had access to tools that allow them to individualize treatment plans for patients. In 2016, Sekhon and colleagues were recognized for using brain-monitoring technology that helped salvage the neurological functions of a world-renowned freestyle skier after she crashed during an international competition. In that case, doctors drilled a hole into the skull of the 22-year old patient — Jamie Crane-Mauzy — so they could take real-time measurements of oxygen and blood-pressure levels in her brain, which enabled them to tailor medications and other interventions to her condition.

Sekhon estimates VGH will receive 20-30 patients each year who will benefit from microdialysis and other brain-monitoring. The hospital has developed a specialized neurocritical-care program consisting of neurosurgeons and intensive-care specialists so that patients with severe brain injuries can get such advanced brain-monitoring, increasing their chances of recovery.

A study published last year that tracked 113 patients with severe brain injuries showed that those who got care from the specialized team were 2.5 times more likely to have a full neurological recovery after six months.

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13Jan

Langley toddler with sun allergy receives liver transplant from dad

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Charlie Lock’s Christmas came with a very special gift.

On Dec. 4, doctors removed the Langley toddler’s liver and gave her a piece of her dad’s liver. The transplant, performed by surgeons at Sick Kids in Toronto, is one of the first steps in a complicated plan to give the little girl with a severe sun allergy a more normal life.

“The transplant went really well,” Charlie’s mom Bekah Lock told Postmedia by phone from Toronto.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re grateful for how well it went.”

The next six months will see more medical procedures for the two-year-old girl and her dad, Kelsey, who was discharged from hospital a few days after his surgery, but continues to heal as his liver regenerates.

In a few months, he’ll give his tiny daughter another gift — this time, a bone-marrow transplant — that will help to save her new liver from the ravages of porphyria.

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Two-year-old Charlie Lock and her mom, Bekah, in July 2018.

Nick Procaylo /

PNG

In July, two-year-old Charlie and her mom Bekah Lock met with Postmedia to talk about life with erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP) — a genetic disease that is sometimes described as an allergy to the sun.

Even small amounts of ultraviolet light cause the toddler’s skin to burn, blister and swell. But it’s the invisible damage — the accumulation of porphyrins in her liver — that can eventually be life-threatening.

Charlie cannot go outside, not even on the cloudiest days, said her mom. The windows in the family’s Langley home are coated with UV-blocking film. To leave, she must be bundled into a stroller with a protective cover and then rushed to a vehicle with similarly coated windows.

She can’t go to a park, or visit a petting zoo, or have a play date at a friend’s house.

Her brief hours outside — the long walks her mom and dad would take with her before she was diagnosed a few weeks after her first birthday — have been forgotten.

“It’s a very small world that she lives in,” Lock told Postmedia in July.

“She’ll stare out the windows and point at the leaves in the trees. She knows what’s out there, but she’s never fully experienced it.”


A photo of Charlie when she was experiencing one of her first reactions to the sun.

Submitted photo – Bekah Lock /

PNG

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Porphyria, specifically EPP, can be excruciatingly painful. The family was prepared to adapt to a life without sunlight, but shortly after Charlie’s diagnosis, there was more bad news.

People with EPP have a shortage of a particular enzyme that metabolizes porphyrins, which help with the production of hemoglobin. Without the enzyme, porphyrins accumulate in the blood, reacting with sunlight to cause burns. In a small percentage of people with EPP, porphyrins also accumulate in the liver.

Like lightning striking twice, Charlie had the rare form of EPP, which destroys the liver. Tests showed scarring similar to that of an alcoholic.

Despite the risks associated with the procedure, doctors began planning a bone-marrow transplant, which could help the little girl metabolize porphyrins. But because Charlie has two rare genetic markers, a perfect match could not be found among family or the international database. Doctors decided Kelsey’s bone marrow, although not a perfect match, could at least halt the damage to the toddler’s liver and possibly help reduce the impacts of sun exposure.

Two weeks before the bone-marrow transplant was set to take place, Charlie became seriously ill. Her enlarged liver was pressing on her lungs, leading to pneumonia. Her tiny, sick body would no longer be able to handle the chemotherapy needed to destroy her own bone marrow in preparation for the transplant.

A new plan was created. Charlie needed a new liver, so instead of donating his bone marrow, Kelsey donated a piece of his liver instead. The procedure could not be done in B.C., so the family travelled to Toronto in late fall.


Charlie Lock after her liver transplant in Toronto.

Submitted photo /

PNG

When describing Charlie’s tumultuous year, Bekah Lock is cheerful and optimistic.

The young mom celebrates the small things, like being able to hear Charlie’s little voice — and her laughter — after she was removed from a ventilator after the transplant.

“We’re not all the way there, but getting those little pieces of her back has been so good,” she said.

Lock admitted it was tough for herself and Kelsey to be away from family over Christmas, but in the same breath, she expressed gratitude for the doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital, as well as for Ronald McDonald House, where the family has been staying while in Toronto.

“They’re taking great care of us,” she said.

After Charlie becomes stronger and gains some weight, the little girl will undergo chemotherapy in preparation for the bone-marrow transplant. The family plans to remain in Toronto for that process and doesn’t expect to return to B.C. for about six months.

“It’s out of our hands,” said Lock. “We know that there will be ups and downs. It never goes perfectly to plan. But right now things are good, so we’re just going to celebrate that.”

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11Jan

Dental care: Growing calls to put some teeth into health coverage

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When Gabrielle Peters saw a video last month of federal health critic Don Davies challenging the health minister to improve access to necessary dental care, she wondered if her plea had been heard.

Still sore from having the last four of her teeth pulled on Nov. 20 because she couldn’t afford any other option, Peters, a freelance writer in Vancouver, had taken to Twitter two weeks before the video was posted online to ask people why they felt dental care should be added to publicly funded health-care coverage 

Hundreds of replies poured in from around the globe. People shared stories of working in agony, losing loved ones to infection, draining savings accounts for treatment and being rushed to emergency rooms due to their lack of dental insurance.

A week after Davies’ video was posted, B.C. Premier John Horgan said his government was exploring how it might include dental care in the provincial health system.

Canadians often speak about the nation’s publicly funded health-care system with intense pride, yet its failure to include dental care is a cause for misery for many of the one-third of the population with no dental insurance.

The Canadian Dental Association reported in 2017 that 32 per cent of Canadians have no dental insurance. Its researchers found that those from lower-income families had worse oral health and had untreated disease more often. They visited the dentist less frequently, delayed visits and were more likely to decline recommended care due to cost.

Researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed decades of Statistics Canada surveys and reported in 2013 that only 49 per cent of middle-income Canadians had dental care coverage. About 34 per cent said they faced cost barriers to dental care in 2009, up from 13 per cent in 1996.

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It is shameful so many people in a country boasting publicly funded health care live with pain, social isolation and poor nutrition because dental care isn’t part of the system, Peters said.

She believes policy-makers ought to recognize that dental care is health care.

“When we refuse to cover dental care, we are deciding to lower people’s quality of life. We are deciding to take a medical issue and let it snowball,” she said.

“Apply it to anything else: ‘We will cover everything but your left arm.’ People would say that’s ridiculous.”

An issue for millions of Canadians

A 2015 report by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences found that about six million Canadians avoid visiting the dentist each year because of the cost.

Canada has one of the lowest rates of publicly funded dental care among OECD countries, at about six per cent, compared to 79 per cent in Finland, said the report.

Those most hurt by lack of access to dental care include people who are low income, Indigenous and disabled.

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u2018Iu2019ve long thought that dental care was a serious omission from our universal health-care system that doesn't make any sense from a public health or social justice point of view,


u2018Iu2019ve long thought that dental care was a serious omission from our universal health-care system that doesn’t make any sense from a public health or social justice point of view,” says Vancouver NDP MP Don Davies, his partyu2019s federal health critic. (Photo: Nick Procaylo, PNG)

“,”type”:”image”,”channels”:[“desktop”,”tablet”,”phone”]}

With this in mind, Davies began pressing the issue of publicly funded basic dental care in 2015.

“I’ve long thought that dental care was a serious omission from our universal health-care system that doesn’t make any sense from a public health or social justice point of view,” the NDP MP for Vancouver-Kingsway said in a recent interview.

“Imagine when you have an open cavity or a rotting tooth or some form of abscess in your mouth, and you’re living with 100 per cent chronic, daily pain, and you couple that with, essentially, the inability to have healthy teeth in your work and daily life. It’s very debilitating.”

Davies said he hasn’t calculated the cost to fund dental care but believes it would ultimately benefit taxpayers, given that failing to fund preventative visits to the dentist can lead to more serious health problems, including heart disease, some requiring expensive trips to emergency rooms.

He is fighting to “put dental care on the agenda” and for his party to include it as part of its 2019 federal election platform.

“Once in a while you can put your thermometer into the body politic and take the temperature, and this one came out sizzling hot,” he said. “It’s basically a no-brainer.”

Horgan said in a year-end interview on Global News that his government was looking at including dental care in provincial health-care coverage and added, “hopefully we will be able to do something about it in the next budget.”

Soon after, he clarified it won’t be in the next budget, but said that when it comes to improving dental coverage, “we’re working on it every single day.”

At a news conference this month, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix said he recognizes that dental care is insufficiently covered, and said his ministry is keeping a close eye on the federal NDP’s discussion about a national dental program.

“We’re already moving in that direction in advance of any action by the federal government or anyone else, and I think we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “That’s certainly the direction we have from the premier.”

He pointed to his government’s recent work to boost dental coverage for children in the Healthy Kids program — generally for families with a net income of $42,000 or less — to $2,000 over two years from $1,400.

‘We can’t remove the jaw from the body’

Dwight Yochim, 56, is a middle-income earner whose private dental plan covers cleanings and basic procedures but doesn’t cover treatment for a painful condition he was diagnosed with two years ago.

Yochim, an executive director for two non-profits in Coquitlam, suffers from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). His jaw is “locked” because of a slipped disc so that he can open his mouth only a few centimetres, he said.

“If I go to eat a burger, I have to squish it down,” he said. “It’s constant pain.”

Dwight Yochim’s private dental plan covers cleanings and basic procedures, but not the temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) in his jaw that was diagnosed two years ago. The Coquitlam non-profits executive director says it will cost him about $5,000 out of pocket to treat his condition. (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)


Dwight Yochim’s private dental plan covers cleanings and basic procedures, but not the temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) in his jaw that was diagnosed two years ago. The Coquitlam non-profits executive director says it will cost him about $5,000 out of pocket to treat his condition. (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)

Jason Payne /

PNG

Yochim said it will cost him about $5,000 out of pocket to treat his condition, according to a recent estimate. He is shopping around for a better price, but in the meantime suffers through occasional periods of agony, which he dulls with acetaminophen.

He considers himself lucky to have any coverage at all but wants to see dental care added to the provincial health-care system. He has emailed Dix asking why this hasn’t been done already.

“It’s your basic health,” Yochim said. “I’m thinking about some of the people who don’t have dental plans. How do they get around and deal with dental pain? Because it’s excruciating sometimes.”

Bruce Wallace, an associate professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Social Work, was lead author of a 2015 study on oral health among people experiencing social and health inequities, He said that when he started researching dental health-care issues in the late ’90s, lack of accessibility to dental care was mostly seen as a problem for the poor, but that has changed to include middle-income people with insufficient coverage.

Made with Flourish

“Now, it’s much more that people are looking at the issue as something that’s really affecting millions of Canadians that just don’t have access to employer benefits,” he said.

“The oral health-care system might look like it’s working well for the general public, but what we also know is that the single model of dentistry that we have — the private business model — is not working well for most people who have low incomes and who might face other barriers to health care,” he said.

Wallace believes B.C. should move publicly funded dental-care programs away from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and to the Ministry of Health, as well as integrate services with primary health care.

“We can’t remove the jaw from the body,” Wallace said. “I don’t think we can remove oral health care from our health-care system. The blood that runs through our jaw and our mouth goes to the rest of our bodies, through our heart and our organs, and that could impact our overall health care.”

Study co-author Dr. Annette Browne, a professor at the University of B.C.’s School of Nursing, is impressed that Horgan is discussing covering dental care.

“It’s the working poor, people who live in relative poverty who are piecing together part-time jobs, often with no dental benefits, who frequently have no dental insurance coverage,” she said.

It’s that group of people who are most often reporting poor oral health and visits to dentists only in emergencies.”

Social and economic impact

The staff at REACH Dental Clinic on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, part of a non-profit community health centre, constantly receive calls from people asking about prices, said clinic manager Maria Botero.

About 40 per cent of the clinic’s 3,300 patients have private insurance, which helps subsidize care for its 60 per cent of patients who don’t have such coverage.

“Some of the patients, they come, they get an estimate, but they can’t do it,” she said.

“Or they do just one thing that is really urgent and then the next time they come, it’s for something really urgent again. Many times, they get extractions because it’s too late. When that happens, it’s very sad.”

Maria Botero (left, with executive director Nicole LeMire) is manager of the REACH Dental Clinic on Commercial Drive, part of a non-profit community health centre that constantly receive calls from people asking about prices, people who ultimately decide not to get their dental problems addressed. (Photo: Arlen Redekop, PNG)


Maria Botero (left, with executive director Nicole LeMire) is manager of the REACH Dental Clinic on Commercial Drive, part of a non-profit community health centre that constantly receive calls from people asking about prices, people who ultimately decide not to get their dental problems addressed. (Photo: Arlen Redekop, PNG)

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

Botero said people who lose teeth can’t chew, eat, speak and socialize like they could before, and often suffer from lower self-esteem.

Anita Simon of Chilliwack, 48, understands the connection between dental health and self-esteem.

When she became sick a few years ago with chronic health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and conversion disorder, strong medications and a lack of dental care destroyed most of her teeth.

“I’m walking around with broken teeth, abscessed teeth, in chronic pain,” said Simon, who doesn’t have dental benefits through her job as a part-time taxi dispatcher.

People make assumptions about her lifestyle because she is missing teeth, leaving her feeling ashamed and angry about her situation.

‘I don't want to be a cranky person. My mantra has always been to choose joy,’ says Anita Simon. ‘Well, joy's pretty hard to choose right now.’ (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)


‘I don’t want to be a cranky person. My mantra has always been to choose joy,’ says Anita Simon. ‘Well, joy’s pretty hard to choose right now.’ (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)

Jason Payne /

PNG

“I don’t want to be a cranky person. My mantra has always been to choose joy,” she said. “Well, joy’s pretty hard to choose right now.”

Simon is on disability assistance and while the ministry put $480 toward her dentures after she had to have her upper teeth extracted, she had to pay the remaining $1,800, she said.

She needs to come up with another $2,000 for a bottom bridge. Before the bridge is installed, she needs to pay for two extractions and several fillings.

Until she can afford those procedures, she will remain on a liquid diet and take expensive supplements to avoid causing further damage and to meet her nutritional needs.

She is urging government to immediately fund public dental care.

Anita Simon prepares a meal with a blender in her Chilliwack home. Simon takes expensive supplements to avoid causing further damage and to meet her nutritional needs. (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)


Anita Simon prepares a meal with a blender in her Chilliwack home. Simon takes expensive supplements to avoid causing further damage and to meet her nutritional needs. (Photo: Jason Payne, PNG)

Jason Payne /

PNG

“I’m a single person on a very limited income, really struggling to do this,” she said.

“But even if you are a two-person family working on this, it is a huge expense for anybody. And it’s not cosmetic, like people think. It is really for your health. Your heart health is affected by your teeth and, I don’t care what anybody says, your mental health is, too.”

The B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition has met with people on income assistance who face the stigma that comes with poor dental health when they try to pull themselves out of poverty through work, said Trish Garner, a community organizer with the group.

“Many of those folks are expected to look for work and if you don’t have dental care, and your teeth look a certain way, then that really impacts your employability,” she said. “Your career horizons are definitely thwarted.”

While people on income assistance may qualify for basic dental coverage, the fees that government will pay for treatment don’t always align with the prices dentists actually charge, Garner said.

For example, the B.C. Dental Association’s suggested fee guide recommends $456 for a single root canal, $102 for a basic filling and $44 for a new patient exam, while the government’s fee allowances for the same treatments are $254, $54 and $24, respectively. People on income or disability assistance typically get up to $1,000 in coverage every two years.

“We would definitely support the province and federal government in taking on dental care as a significant issue and bringing it into our idea of the provision of universal health care,” Garner said.

‘If you don't have dental care, and your teeth look a certain way, then that really impacts your employability,’ says Trish Garner (pictured in 2012) of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. (Photo: Arlen Redekop, PNG files)


‘If you don’t have dental care, and your teeth look a certain way, then that really impacts your employability,’ says Trish Garner (pictured in 2012) of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition. (Photo: Arlen Redekop, PNG files)

Arlen Redekop /

PNG files

Dr. Ray Grewal, president of the B.C. Dental Association, said 65 per cent of British Columbians have some sort of dental coverage and the association is striving to improve things for the other 35 per cent.

The association is working with the province to support non-profit clinics, some of which are staffed with volunteer dentists, and it is pushing for fluoridated water to combat dental decay, Grewal said.

When it comes to expanding publicly funded coverage, Grewal said B.C.’s most vulnerable patients — such as people with disabilities, children, seniors and those living in poverty — should be prioritized.

“The premier’s comments were great, but I think now we’re trying to figure out where we are with those comments,” he said.

“I think it’s really to just focus on specific groups (for whom) we can really improve their overall oral health.”

Teeth extraction ‘devastating’

Peters has some coverage for dental care through B.C. disability assistance, but it didn’t cover the treatments that might have saved her last four teeth.

She suffers from an autoimmune disease that requires her to take strong medications and causes gastrointestinal dysfunction, including reflux that brings stomach acid into her mouth.

She had most of her teeth extracted in 2010.

“By the time it became clear that this was a serious problem, the option that was left for me, with the coverage that I have, was extraction,” she said. “It’s devastating. It’s hard to describe.”

Peters recently led work with the City of Vancouver’s Active Transportation Policy Council to increase sidewalk accessibility, and pushed the city’s park board to install a mat to make the beach at English Bay accessible for wheelchairs.

But after losing her teeth, she’s uncertain she’ll continue her public work and volunteerism.

“I’m ashamed and embarrassed, and I don’t even know why I’m ashamed, because I don’t know what I could have done differently,” she said.

“I’m even more angry that I’ve been put in this position.”

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9Jan

B.C. nurses against tentative deal want more staff, not more money

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There are hundreds of nursing vacancies posted on the HealthMatch B.C. website, but not even the union knows how many more jobs need to be filled.


There are hundreds of nursing vacancies posted on the HealthMatch B.C. website, but not even the union knows how many more jobs need to be filled.


Christopher Furlong / Getty Images files

A vocal group of frustrated nurses is threatening to reject a three-year tentative contract with the provincial government because it doesn’t come with written guarantees that more nurses will be hired for short-staffed hospital units.

The voting deadline for the tentative deal is Jan. 21 and, as Postmedia stories have been documenting contract details this week, nurses have been voicing their concerns in emails and on social media that the deal doesn’t go far enough to hold employers to account.

This, even though the Health Employers Association of B.C., which negotiates on behalf of the government, agreed to a provision in the $3.99-billion contract in which nurses working on short-staffed units will be given an hourly bonus ranging from $3 to $5 an hour. The “working short” premiums could cost taxpayer-funded health facilities as much as $100 million a year, according to the union bargaining team which insists that it is putative and is, therefore, a huge incentive for hospitals to fill vacancies.

The cost of the premiums is considered an “unfunded liability” to health employers so amounts owing to nurses would come out of hospital and other budgets already allocated by the provincial government. It remains to be seen whether the ministry of health would hand over more money to health authorities to cover the premiums.

Naysayers are skeptical that the premiums will achieve their purpose; some say it will still be cheaper to pay the premiums than to hire new nurses. Nearly $200 million was paid in overtime to nurses last year.

Health Employers spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said in an interview that the agreement “requires employers to take all reasonable efforts to fill shifts, including going to full overtime rates.

“The working short premium is intended to compensate nurses who are required to work short if a shift can’t be filled. The goal of employers is to minimize the number of times this premium would be paid.”

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There are hundreds of nursing vacancies posted on the HealthMatch B.C. website but not even the union knows how many more jobs need to be filled, so the contract provides for a workload assessment process over the next year meant to show what “safe staffing” levels are for each hospital unit. The union can also press for more hirings in other ways, as it did at St. Paul’s Hospital last year.

The “working short premium” as it is called, will kick in on April 1, 2020 and B.C. Nurses Union CEO Umar Sheikh has said that many of the 6,000 casual nurses should be converted to regular, permanent positions to help plug the “four million hours” when hospitals are short staffed.

B.C. Nurses Union CEO Umar Sheikh.


B.C. Nurses Union CEO Umar Sheikh.

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Sheikh acknowledged it may be difficult to find and hire enough registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and licensed practical nurses. Recent reports by the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Institute of Health Information show that nationally, there is an alarming slowdown in the growth of employed nurses.

The annual growth rate fell to 0.7 per cent from 2016 to 2017, the slowest in a decade. In 2017 (the last year for which data is available), a total of 4,271 nurses were registered for the first time in B.C., but in the same year 3,135 retired, so there was a net gain of only 1,136 nurses. By comparison, Ontario had net gains of 1,941 nurses and Alberta had 1,183.

Nurses say they can’t speak on the record during the ratification process but they have been reaching out in droves — off the record — to articulate their worries.

B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen.


B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen.

Wayne Leidenfrost /

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In a comment posted under a news story, Teresa Johnson-Fortune said:

“We have been working short staffed for years and the government has not lived up to their previous contract negotiations. The current health care system is run based on nurses doing crazy amounts of overtime. We are tired, but most of us do overtime because we feel bad for our co-workers and don’t want to leave them working short.”

Sheikh told his union members the working short premiums are high enough that hospitals will be compelled to hire extra staff rather than pay it. For example, the $5 per hour premium represents an 11.38-per-cent wage increase on top of the 7.75-per-cent increase nurses will get over three years. (Although the contract calls for a two-per-cent increase each year, an extra 1.75 is due to nurses this year as a carryover from the last contract.)

“The working short premium represents a commitment by the employers — (one) we haven’t seen before.”

Nurses union president Christine Sorensen told members in the same teleconference that the understaffing in hospitals is “simply unsustainable.” The contract addresses priorities nurses identified before bargaining, she said, including compensation for all time worked, wage increases, benefits protection, workloads and safe staffing levels, and a premium “for those times when you did not have staff (on leaves) replaced.”

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8Jan

‘Abuse is possible’ with B.C. nurses’ unlimited massage benefits

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Unlike most other public and private employees, nurses do not have a limit on the number of massages they and their family members can get each year and there are no co-pays.


Unlike most other public and private employees, nurses do not have a limit on the number of massages they and their family members can get each year and there are no co-pays.


David De Lossy / Getty Images files

The B.C. Nurses Union is investigating how one nurse’s family managed to use $174,000 in massage therapy benefits over the course of a year through the taxpayer-funded extended benefits plan.

This amid a raging controversy triggered by news that public health care employers spent $31 million in nurses’ massage therapy costs in 2017, a 900-per-cent increase from 2008.

Unlike most other public and private employees, nurses do not have a limit on the number of massages they and their family members can get each year and there are no co-pays; massages are 100 per cent employer paid at rates up to $110 per hour.

According to BCNU contract bargaining documents, a disproportionate number of nurses are using most of the massage benefits. Twenty-one per cent ate up 82 per cent of the expenditure on massage therapy.  The vast majority — 80 per cent — of union members used less than $1,000 per year in such benefits.

But there are cases of apparent abuse, according to nurses union CEO Umar Sheikh.

In a town hall question and answer teleconference for nurses soon after the tentative contract was reached last month, he told union members that under the system of unlimited massages “abuse is possible.”

He cited the $174,000 case and said at that rate, the nurse and his or her dependents would have had 1.8 massages per day. There is a provision in the nurses union benefits package to curb such egregious spending but the language is vague, with reference to “reasonable and customary limits” on such perks.

 

Sheikh said there is no proposal to revoke massage therapy for “vulnerable” nurses who need them for medical and preventive purposes, but the proposed review to take place over the next year would consider whether to introduce a cap to curb the exponential growth in costs to publicly funded hospitals and other health care facilities.

Massage therapy is a popular health and wellness treatment approach and many have said it can help nurses reduce stress and its associated symptoms, not to mention relieve muscle and joint pain. B.C. has eight schools for massage therapy training and there are about 400 new registrants each year. In 2015, there were 4,183 active registrants, up from 3,653 just two years earlier.

The Registered Massage Therapists Association of B.C. said the “significant rise” in massage therapy use is attributable to studies showing evidence of benefits, an increase in the public’s interest in non-surgical and drug-free treatments and higher educational standards among therapists.

According to companies that specialize in health benefits, private companies and public employee plans typically have limits on the dollar value or number of massages that are covered per year. A recent survey showed that the upper limit of coverage in the most elite plans is $400 per person. The B.C. Public Service Benefits Guide shows that employees can claim up to $750 a year per person for massage therapy.

Sanofi Canada Healthcare Surveys have shown that massage therapy is one of the fastest growing benefits and that nearly half of those who have extended health care benefits filed at least one claim for massage therapy. The steady growth in the use of employer-sponsored massage therapy has caused much consternation and navel-gazing in the insurance industry. Green Shield Canada, which calls itself Canada’s only national not-for-profit health and dental benefits company, recently posted this commentary: We Spend More on Massage than Mental Health Services…Time For A Change?


B.C. Nurses Union CEO Umar Sheikh.

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Green Shield Canada has initiated a rethink on massage benefits, removing it as a core benefit in its new SMARTspend plans, as they are called, “in order to reinvest significant funds in more serious health challenges.”

Under siege Tuesday from angry nurses who read the first Postmedia story about the tentative contract, Sheikh declined to be interviewed. On social media channels, some nurses were vociferous in their protests over some elements of the agreement, including the plan to consider capping massage benefits.

Nurses are also angry that Sheikh said the average annual wage for nurses is about $45 an hour. For the 36,420 registered nurses in the B.C. Nurses Union, it is currently $42.35, according to a union factsheet. For 9,229 licensed practical nurses, the average in 2018 was $29.42. If nurses approve the tentative agreement by the Jan. 21 deadline, licensed practical nurses’ wages on April 1 would range from $27.87 per hour to $32.46 per hour, depending on job descriptions and experience. Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses would be paid anywhere from $34.83 to $55.18 per hour.

While nurses’ benefits are part of their collective agreements, in other health care unions there are joint benefit trusts that are co-managed by union and employer-appointed trustees who get funding from employers that is fixed to a percentage of the payroll.

Roy Thorpe-Dorward, spokesman for the Health Employers Association of B.C., said “no benefit costs are unlimited.”

“Working together, both parties (unions and employers) are motivated to operate efficient and sustainable benefits plans that provide the best possible benefits for employees,” he said, adding that historically health sector agreements have included caps on “paramedical” expenses such as massage therapy.

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4Jan

BC reduces or eliminates deductibles for many Fair Pharmacare clients

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Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that as of Jan. 1, B.C. households earning up to $30,000 in net income annually no longer have to pay a Fair PharmaCare deductible.


Nick Procaylo / PNG

B.C. has eliminated Fair Pharmacare deductibles for families earning less than $30,000 and reduced deductibles for families earning between $30,000 and $45,000.

Low-income seniors and individuals will see co-payments eliminated, meaning their prescriptions will be fully covered by the plan, if they qualify, said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Before the new rules kicked in Jan. 1, families that qualified for Fair Pharmacare would have to pay some of their prescription costs out of pocket before receiving coverage.

A family with an annual income of just $11,250 would have paid $200 before Pharmacare would begin to pay. Households with a net annual income between $15,000 and $30,000 were paying $300 to $600 out-of-pocket before coverage assistance began.

Ministry data show that people in income bands affected by the deductibles were skipping their prescriptions, possibly to pay for other living expenses, said Dix.

“No one should have to make the difficult decision between their family’s health and putting food on the table,” said Dix. “We know that for many working households, needed prescriptions were going unfilled too often because Fair PharmaCare deductibles were too high.”

A 2014 study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that seniors were particularly poorly served by income-based pharmacare coverage. B.C. switched from age-based coverage in 2003 to contain rising program costs.

Faced with paying the full price of prescriptions until the minimum threshold of $1,000, B.C. seniors have been less likely to fill prescriptions, said lead author Steve Morgan, director of the Centre for Heath Services and Policy Research at the University of B.C.

Several Canadian studies have found that British Columbians were twice as likely to report skipping medications for financial reasons (7.1 per cent, according to one study) compared seniors in Ontario, where their drug costs are minimal.

When people skip medications for chronic conditions, the costs tend to turn up in other parts of the health care system, such as more frequent hospitalization.

Fair Pharmacare serves about 240,000 families in B.C., including people in long-term residential care and income assistance clients. The average drug expenditure per patient is about $1,600 a year.

The provincial government has budgeted $105 million to pay for coverage improvements.

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27Dec

BC overdose crisis continues with 120 suspected deaths in November

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The three cities experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.


JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VANCOUVER — There were 120 suspected drug overdose deaths in British Columbia last month, representing a 13 per cent increase over the number of deaths in the same month last year.

The B.C. Coroners Service says an average of four people died every day last month from an illicit drug overdose.

The latest figures show 1,380 people died by overdose between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2018, almost exactly the same number of dead between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2017.

The service says the majority of those dying from overdoses are men who are 30 to 59 years old, and most overdoses are occurring indoors.

The three cities experiencing the highest number of illicit drug overdoses are Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.

The coroners service says 1,486 people died of overdoses in B.C. last year.

It is expected to announce the overall death toll for 2018 next month.


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23Dec

A festive day to just be your elf adds final memory for Fun On The Run

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Dear Santa:

My work as your “special tanned elf” — and my memorable time as a Vancouver fun run blogger — is done. Let me just say I’m not doing fist-pumps today about either.

Whether it was mugging for fun photos in my elf-fit with smiling strangers in humid downtown Bangkok and all the wonderful women at Kalavin Thai Massage in toasty Phuket, Thailand earlier this month, or standing with 525-plus costumed characters Saturday afternoon in chilly Stanley Park at the fourth annual Big Elf Run, it struck me that being surrounded by happy people in a sometimes troubled world should never be seen as a bad thing.

Esteemed Elf BaxterBayer, the brains and thin wallet behind the Vancouver-based Running Tours Inc. that never fails to put smiles on faces, was at his very best Saturday pumping up the kids and later the adults with his enthusiastic (and very original) warmups, hospitality and festive ambience at Lumberman’s Arch. You’d never know that seven days earlier, after the City of Vancouver revoked his event permit at the 11th hour, he was reeling and worried sick this superb show might not go on.


Baxter Bayer leads a hearty warmup on Saturday at the fourth annual Big Elf Run in Stanley Park. More than 500 people laced up for the 5K and 10K events. (Francis Georgian photo)

And while the turnout took a bit of a hit by the one-week delay, there was a lot to be said Saturday afternoon about quality over quantity. To those who couldn’t make it, for whatever reason, you missed a sweet upbeat Christmas party that included dogs and strollers — and lots of colour and imagination. If I had to pick one event to say goodbye, this was the perfect one to drop the microphone at.

One little girl told me she was going to kick her brother’s butt in the 1K Wee Elf kids’ race, and did just that. One teenaged girl told me she was going to kick my butt in the 5K, and then did (showoff!). One much older gal (smile) said my wedgie-tight elf suit wouldn’t last the 5K without a “wardrobe malfunction.” Thank gawd she was wrong!

The Big Elf Run, which checks all the boxes for having a good time, also raised awareness and funds for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, a place where courage really lives. For the serious runners, and there were some real Dashers, Startline Timing ensured those “racing” in the 5K and 10K had accurate times to send to the North Pole, or wherever Garmin’s elves hang out!  To check out all the finishing times, click HERE.

“Was a bit bummed out we had to delay this run a week,” admitted Bayer moments before the entertaining kids’ race wrapped up. “You try to avoid holding events this time of year what with last-minute shopping, vacations, the weather and traffic, but the schedule change was totally out of our control. My objective today was to put the best show on for those who could still make it, and hope everyone liked it!”

Well, mission more than accomplished. Judging by comments at the event, and later on social media, Bayer’s crew crushed another one out of the park. There were several who took advantage of the virtual run component, too.


Shelley Hatfield, right, and her Over The Top Fitness crew of Aldergrove “sleighed” the Big Elf Run on Saturday afternoon. (Margaret Buttner photo)

This year Bayer’s small company launched a Big Fun Run Series that included the spanking-new La Gran Fiesta Run (Burnaby) and Big Superhero Run (Richmond), along with the established Big Easter Run (Jericho Beach). And if you took part in all four events, which my family did, you received a sweet Big Fun Run Series Go Big medal. And speaking of medals, this series had must-have bling that far exceeded expectations.

Tricia Barker, a new commissioner for the Vancouver Park Board and participant in Saturday’s run, said she had a ton of fun taking part in the fourth annual event, which American Express ranks in the top 14 worldwide as “seasonal events with a twist.”

“Great crowd, lots of spirit, great costumes and love the big medal,” she said, while joking out after inspecting my way too tight elf-fit that she’s also a personal trainer for getting people in shape. No problem, I get that a lot Santa!


The women at Kalavin Thai Massage in Phuket, Thailand stopped working earlier this month to get their photos taken with Uncle Elfie. They also treated his sunburn! (Lisa Kurenoff photo)

One of my final official duties for the Big Elf Run was naming a new Mr. or Mrs. Santa Claus, having won the prestigious ambassador title at this event last year. This year’s winner is Shelley Hatfield of Aldergrove, the brains and beauty behind the Over The Top Fitness crew that dressed up as reindeer (along with Santa’s musical sleigh) on Saturday. Hatfield and her motley crew, who take the fun to every run, also raises funds throughout the year for a cat shelter in Richmond.

A couple of the Sole Girls leaders in Saturday’s run, who said they loved my pirate outfit at the Moustache Miler last month, made me promise that I won’t stop running or wearing new costumes in the new year. Told them my budget-wise wife now has full say on the wardrobe expense account after discovering additional hidden gems in my man cave! But I promised to keep running and surrounding myself with positive people.

Here are some other festive gems from Saturday’s Big Elf Run:


Linda and Dennis Hill, right, said one year ago they didn’t understand the whole costume thing with runners. They’ve really changed their tune! (Gord Kurenoff photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Folks do the festive thing, again!

My work colleagues gasped out loud after mentioning I just spent 2½ weeks in toasty Thailand with the in-laws.

“Did you lose a bet?” was the most common reaction, followed closely by “was it your choice?” and “wife forced you to play along?” (No, yes and no are the politically correct answers to those questions, by the way! And I refuse to take a lie detector test.)

Linda and Dennis Hill, great people to call family, really got into Bayer’s Big Fun Run Series. Initially it was because my father-in-law wanted a La Gran Fiesta Run bottle opener medal, and then it was to try out new costumes, a thing most in the family found shocking.

“You’ll never ever catch me wearing a run costume,” said Deadpool Dennis one short year ago. “Who does that stupid stuff?”

Not sure what changed his mind, but he dressed up for the La Gran Fiesta Run, then the Superhero Run, then the Big Elf Run, plus the Moustache Miler and a few other events along the way. In fact, he began calling from costume shops asking if I or his daughter needed anything for upcoming runs!

Yep, welcome to the “who does that stupid stuff” club big guy. And sincere thanks to you and mom for being some of the biggest run/walk boosters out there.


Dora Velazquez of Surrey, who wore the bib Thinny feet Dory, won the Female Elf 10K event Saturday in a blazing 42:18, poses with Postmedia News blogger Gord Kurenoff in Stanley Park before her victory.

Dora the Explorer was a Blitzen

This year I took part in 45 weekend races, some so serious I actually wore real running clothes!

Along the way you meet people who become familiar faces, people who make race day brighter, better and memorable. One such lady is Dora Velazquez of Surrey who continues to improve, and amaze, and inspire.

She was worried Saturday that some of her speedy friends wouldn’t be at the seawall to push her efforts to crush the 10K. This friendly elf offered to be her pace bunny but when she mentioned shooting for the low 40s, I backed out, citing a need to make sure everyone at the back of the 5K race was safe!

Dora, who said her outfit “became super hot” as she burned up the course, finished in 42:18 — the first female elf across the finish line.

She gave me a quick lesson on proper warmup stretching, then asked what my running plans are for January and February, 2019.

Well, I’m doing the PEN Run Resolution Run 4K trail race on New Year’s Day at Crescent Park in Surrey, the Steveston Icebreaker 8K on Jan. 20, Try Events’ Chilly Chase 10K on Jan. 27 and then my first half-marathon in 25-plus years — the sold-out RUNVAN’s First Half Half in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 10.

“Which ones will you be wearing costumes for,” laughed Dora, who rolled her eyes when I told her I’d likely be the Chafing Cowboy for the half marathon!


Francis Georgian of The Vancouver Sun/Province shoots photos on Saturday of the Big Elf Run. (Gord Kurenoff photo)

Francis focuses on running elves

Francis Georgian, a photographer and video guru with my employer —The Vancouver Sun/Province newspapers — spent some time hanging out at at Stanley Park on Saturday.

Besides doing a full-page colourful photo spread in Sunday’s Province about the run, Georgian filed this fun video, too, which features Bayer and a lot of people you might know:

 

 


Gord Kurenoff finishes the Big Elf Run in 33 minutes on Saturday, despite a three-minute “detour” to find a washroom! Baxter Bayer, right, cheers on his ambassador elf. (iPOLPOPHOTOS photo)

‘Potty animal’ gets ‘er done — with a smile

The good folks at iPOLPOPHOTOS, who were the official photographers at Saturday’s Big Elf Run, have been very supportive of this blogger, and this blog over the years.

Katia Reinhardt of Fort Langley, who I met while taking her photo four years ago before an MEC Vancouver race on the seawall, had this dream to expand the company and its app and has made major gains since. The co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company has been a regular race fixture on the Lower Mainland in the past couple of years.

“You have such an awesome happy and supportive spirit,” Katia said Sunday, before sharing a photo of me finishing the 5K. “The smile says it all about you and running. I don’t think I have ever taken a photo of you not smiling!”

Katia is way too kind. On Saturday, at the 2.5K mark, she missed a non-smiling moment as I had to find a washroom to get rid of the coffee, juice, water and tea intake! Eventually found one, wasted three precious minutes getting in and out of the elf onesie, and then ran like made to make up lost time.

Finished the 5K in 33 minutes, which is not bad given the detour. In fact, my Garmin says I ran 5.10 Ks and actually shows the zig-zags when I began the potty hunt mid-race!

Check out more on iPOLPOHOTOS great service and Apple/Android app by clicking HERE.


Gord Kurenoff drops the microphone at Saturday’s Big Elf Run finish line to signal the end of his blogging days. Baxter Bayer looks on. (Scott Williams photo)

End of the blogging road for Uncle Elfie

So, as mentioned, this is the end of the road as a run blogger for yours truly.

Like all fat, out of shape people who work at The Vancouver Sun, you’re approached to be a Sun Run “guinea pig” and blog about your couch-to-starting line experience, which happened to this scribe four years ago.

After crawling through that Sun Run, I was pointed toward the first Big Elf Run as a starting point for this Fun On The Run hobby blog. And some 200-plus events later, and pumping the tires of many a runner, run company, elite and novice athletes and community events on my “spare time and own dime,” I’m back wearing green and calling it a day.

Baxter Bayer has been, without a doubt, my biggest supporter. He totally understood the concept of this fun blog’s intent — trying to push couch potatoes or weekend warriors to races to improve their physical and mental health, to socialize, to have fun, to improve, to appreciate the sport and race-day vibe no matter your skill level, to put down social media devices for a morning, to embrace the West Coast lifestyle and just do it. He also said thanks, which was pure money in my world.


Dennis Hill, Linda Hill, Gord Kurenoff and Lisa Kurenoff, back from Thailand with tans, jet lag and memories, took part in all four of the Big Fun Run Series events in 2018. (Francis Georgian photo)

Truth be told, I really suck as an adult runner most days. My feet are sore, my “strict” diet is iffy, my training routines leave plenty to be desired. But I have fun and never, ever have I regretted being at a race, or catching up with people, or hearing their success stories or future plans.

Bayer let me inside the so-called ropes at several of his and other neat events, shared valuable information that helped me do a better job, and always kept a positive attitude that rubbed off.

As mentioned last month, he also stepped up big time when my younger brother died unexpectedly last year and he made sure this writer and my family didn’t curl up and get lost in grief.

Some people asked why I bother to cover “non serious runs” and some mocked me for wearing costumes at “dumb events” or for not running faster. Isn’t social media grand? Good thing I have thick, well-padded skin as some critics pointed out! I wouldn’t have missed this awesome experience, and adventures, for the world.

With love from “Uncle Elfie,” and my forever grateful family, have a great Christmas holiday and super New Year. Keep smiling, keep embracing life and see you all down the road at a race day near you.

And for Star Wars nut Baxter and the lovely Jana, may the force always be with you and thanks for making a huge difference in this crazy world.

Gotta run …

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Twitter.com/Ohgord


Uncle Elfie soaked up the sun at the Movenpick Phuket Beach Resort in Thailand earlier this month, and posed for photos with staff and tourists while spreading the good word about the Big Elf Run. (Dennis Hill photo)




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11Dec

Assisted death transfers now declining: B.C. local health authorities

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Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson says VCH does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of medical assistance in dying responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:


Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson says VCH does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of medical assistance in dying responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:

twitter.com

Local health regions are making significant progress in boosting the number of patients dying in place rather than being moved to facilities to obtain medical assistance in dying.

The Fraser Health region, where palliative care hospices have been especially resistant to providing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) on site because of philosophical opposition, has drastically reduced the number of patients transferred to other facilities on their last day or days of their lives, going from 27 transfers in 2017 and part of 2016 to only six in 2018, according to new data provided by the health authority.

“In each case, we carefully consider how to offer MAiD in the most patient-centred way we can as we strongly support the patient’s right to choose to access these services,” said Fraser Health spokeswoman Jacqueline Blackwell.

It has been one year since Fraser Health told hospices and other care facilities to stop transferring clients out for MAiD services. While some like the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner remain defiant, the latest data on the distressing, disruptive transfers that were occurring with much regularity last year show it is now becoming a more infrequent occurrence.

“We have been able to limit the number of transfers by understanding our patients’ end-of-life wishes and ensuring they receive care in a facility that can support them,” said Blackwell, referring to facilities that receive taxpayer funding.

“We believe hospice care is a critical part of the continuum of care, and we value those who provide this vital service, including the care providers, the volunteers and the administrators. We understand there are controversies surrounding this legal obligation and where and how to implement this. (But) we also respect that individuals and faith-based health care organizations can conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths, while providing safe and timely transfers for patients for further assessment and discussion of care options, if required.” 

Between the time when MAiD was legalized midway through 2016 to Oct. 31, 2018, 257 medically assisted deaths were provided in Fraser Health. Half of those were conducted in 2018.

While there are still some holdout hospices in the Fraser region, hospices in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region are providing MAiD except for those that are faith-based facilities; from those, 17 patients have been transferred so far this year.

Overall in 2018, there have been 131 provisions of MAiD within Vancouver Coastal, including the 17 affected who wanted it but had to go elsewhere.

Langley-Aldergrove Conservative MP Mark Warawa.


Langley-Aldergrove Conservative MP Mark Warawa.

Adrian Wyld /

Canadian Press files

Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson said the health authority does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of MAiD responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:

“VCH policy, and the B.C.’s health sector generally, respects that individuals and faith-based health care organizations can conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths while providing safe and timely transfers for patients for further assessment and discussion of care options if required.”

Mark Warawa, Conservative MLA for Langley-Aldergrove, said in an interview that hospices providing palliative care in the Fraser Valley don’t want to offer MAiD because it is inconsistent with their mandate to provide a haven for “a natural death” process and not to hasten death.

He said he believes residential homes and hospitals are the best places to offer MAiD. “This shouldn’t be forced on hospices,” he said, referring to an edict a year ago from Fraser Health that patients should not be transferred out of their last health care setting in order to get MAiD.

Warawa said over the last 18 months, his office staff has tried to reach out to provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix multiple times to discuss the hospice issue. Dix said in an email that he has spoken with Warawa and knows about his beliefs.

Dix said B.C. has been leading the country in end-of-life matters and enabling individuals to “make choices in how they unfold.”

“We are a leader in organ donation. And through B.C.’s Representation Agreement Act, we are a leader in how we set out in our wills our wishes and instructions for key parts of our end-of-life medical care. Ensuring that MAiD can be accessed by patients who meet the stringent criteria puts the onus on us — and our health-care facilities — to ensure patients’ move to this end-of-life choice is free of friction and the additional suffering it causes.”

Warawa said provinces have been given plenty of time to build enough capacity into the health care system for “assisted suicides” and if hospitals and non-denominational facilities don’t have enough resources for MAiD requests, then it may be time to build stand-alone “centres of excellence” for MAiD services.

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