The University of B.C. has been steadily increasing its mental health services to meet growing demand. One of its initiatives is the Wellness Centre, which is staffed by trained student volunteers. PNG
With thousands of students heading back to school this year, the University of British Columbia is ramping up its mental health services to meet a spike in demand that’s also hitting other post-secondary institutions across Canada.
UBC’s Vancouver campus has been steadily increasing free mental health services for students since 2015, investing $2.5 million annually in providing counsellors, boosting programs and diversifying services.
“UBC is very similar to campuses across Canada in that we are seeing increased demand for mental health services, which is why the university has invested in many ways,” said Patty Hambler, director of health promotion and education at UBC Student Services.
According to U.S. research firm Education Advisory Board, 13 Canadian post-secondary institutions across the country have seen a 35 per cent increase in counselling appointments between 2011 and 2015.
Last year, 28,069 UBC students accessed mental health professional support, which could include physicians, counsellors, mental health nurses or psychiatrists) at the Point Grey campus — almost half its approximately 55,000 student population. An additional 4,669 students sought help through Empower Me, a 24/7 helpline at UBC that connects students to counsellors.
Experts say there could be many factors behind the increase in demand, such as increased awareness of mental health and well-being; reduced stigma; the proliferation of social media, which has been linked to negative effects on mental health; or a more competitive and uncertain job market and financial stresses.
In recent years, the university also focused on improving mental health services for the nearly 12,000 students who live on campus, adding counsellors to residences and boosting health education programming at dorms.
Working with faculty members, it also introduced a pilot project for second-year mechanical engineering students to bring mental health literacy into the classroom. Similar initiatives are being adapted by other departments, including nursing and biology.
Over the past two years, UBC added mental health nurses and a nurse practitioner at the student health service centre, which operates out of UBC Hospital, though the service is provided by the university, not by the local health authority.
These programs are in addition to existing services, which include the Wellness Centre, which is staffed by wellness peers, and the Empower Me helpline, which is offered in multiple languages.
“Ultimately, the goal is to increase access for students and diversify what we offer, so there’s different entry points for students to access,” said Hambler.
Some students may find it challenging to adjust during their first year in university, so UBC tries to prepare incoming students for the different learning environment with its Jump Start orientation program, which helps freshmen make friends, build connections across the university community and become aware of resources and services available on campus.
“We’re really encouraging students to be proactive about their health,” said Hambler. “If they can build up resilience and focus on eating well, and getting enough sleep, then they can take on those challenges a bit better.”
Last year, Simon Fraser University launched a 24/7 mental health and support service that can be accessed through a phone or app to meet growing demand among its students.
When she thinks about the toll a lack of nursing resources is having on her family, Stephanie Hill Davie is overcome with emotion.
Her son, Owen, requires round-the-clock care. He is diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome and Kabuki syndrome, two rare genetic conditions that prevent him eating or sitting up on his own.
“Owen has no muscle tone, so he needs constant supervision because he can easily roll off of devices,” Hill Davie said. “I’ve done simple things like go to the washroom and have come back and he’s choked, vomitted and blue, and he needs resuscitation immediately.”
She said Owen has qualified for 168 hours a week of nursing services but starting last fall, those hours have been dwindling. Since April, those hours have dropped for 56 a week.
She’s now at her wits’ end.
She has been in touch with the nursing support services’ coordinator and the nursing agency. She has also reached out to the province’s patient quality care review board, an ombudsperson, local MLA, the B.C. health minister, the province’s premier and even the prime minister, even though she knows health care doesn’t fall under the federal government.
“It’s all over the news that there’s a nursing shortage within British Columbia,” Hill Davie said. “Why isn’t the health minister looking at the programs that he already has in place to help families? And why he hasn’t recognized that there’s a crisis for a lot of families?”
According to the BC Nurses’ Union, upwards of 25,000 nurses are needed to staff the province’s health care system over the next 10 years. The number includes new nurse positions and replacement of retiring nurses.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Health told CTV News, “Our government is committed to providing children and youth with complex needs the healthcare services they need to live in their home and community.”
“While we cannot speak to individual patient cases, the ministry and Provincial Health Services Authority are aware of this patient and a nursing support services program coordinator is working with the family and his health care team to support him,” the ministry said.
Hill Davie said if the family does not receive the nursing support they need, she and her husband will have to take on the role as Owen’s care taker.
“It’s forcing my husband and I into caregiver burnout,” she said. “All three of my kids deserve a mom. They don’t deserve one person providing care to one child.”
Premier John Horgan, with Evan Sky makes a mental health program announcement at Mountainside Secondary School in North Vancouver, June 26, 2019. A Pathway To Hope lays out the government’s 10-year vision for mental health and addictions care. NICK PROCAYLO / PNG
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction produced a new plan designed to improve mental health and addictions care, called A Pathway to Hope. The plan is a step in the right direction to improve the well-being of all citizens.
For far too long, problems with the current mental health system in British Columbia have remained unaddressed, leading to devastating consequences.
The ministry reported that B.C. has the country’s highest rate of hospitalization due to mental illness and substance use and that more than 1,500 people died from a drug overdose in 2018. The demand for services far exceeds what is available and there is a clear need for stronger and more accessible mental health programs. As minister of health in the mid-1990s, I acknowledge my share of responsibility for these outcomes. Recognizing these gaps in our current system is a crucial first step to moving forward with effective solutions.
The ministry fittingly recognizes that larger societal factors, such as colonialism and racism, have led to Indigenous peoples having disproportionally poorer mental health outcomes and being overrepresented in social, health and justice services. By engaging First Nations communities to design and deliver mental health services, the plan will begin to reduce the barriers to mental health care that Indigenous peoples currently experience.
Key to the ministry’s plan is the creation of seamless and integrated mental health services, an approach that would strengthen the opportunity for early intervention and ensure the accessibility and appropriateness of needed services. The plan is sound and requires sustained efforts and commitment to implement, but will ultimately ensure that mental health needs are met holistically, regardless of clients’ point of contact with services.
The ministry’s plan calls on organizations, businesses, and academic institutions to collaborate and create shared solutions. At Adler University, we couldn’t agree more. In fact, one of our main goals is to train mental health service providers to work with underserviced and vulnerable populations.
As part of our academic programs, our psychology and counselling students work at dozens of community agencies in the Lower Mainland, providing mental health services to marginalized people. The new Adler Community Health Services in Vancouver will make effective mental health care accessible to more people through our community partners. Additionally, our university is training the next generation of clinicians who can help fill the demand for quality mental health services, especially in underserved communities.
Improving mental health services is just one step we need to take if we truly want all British Columbians to have optimal physical and mental health. Mental health problems don’t develop in a vacuum. The health of individuals is directly related to the health of their communities. This idea was articulated by Alfred Adler, the first community psychologist and namesake of our university, in the late 1800s and it continues to resonate today.
With that in mind, we need to take a close look at what elements of our communities are contributing to various forms of deteriorating mental health and addictions. By working together to prevent systemic problems, such as trauma, homelessness and economic inequality, we can promote better mental health and wellness for everyone.
Joy MacPhail is chairwoman of the board of trustees of Adler University, which offers graduate-level programs in psychology, counselling and public policy, all with a focus on “positive social change” at campuses in Vancouver and Chicago. She is also a former long-serving NDP B.C. MLA and cabinet minister.
VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister says the number of children fully immunized against measles rose by 37,525 between April and June as part of a catch-up program.
Adrian Dix says a requirement for parents to report students’ immunization records in September is expected to further increase vaccination rates in a province that has seen 29 cases of the infectious disease this year.
Dix says up to 50,000 children begin kindergarten every year so the push for vaccination will continue as measles remains a public health issue, especially given that Washington state declared an emergency in January over a rising number of cases and rates of infection increased around the world.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
Nick Procaylo /
Dix says the number of vaccinations at doctors’ offices and pharmacists has also increased, with 1,220 people getting immunized by pharmacists between April and June, up from 21 during the same period last year.
He says more public education about measles led to a large number of students in Grades 10, 11 and 12 getting themselves immunized at over 1,000 clinics set up at schools.
Health authorities in B.C. also held over 3,500 public health clinics during the three-month catch-up period so people could get immunized.
“The big challenge is that there’s a tendency to respond to these things when they’re seen as crises and after the crisis ends you sort of take the foot off the gas and we don’t intend to do that,” Dix says. “By changing the way that we engage with people on immunization that’s going to continue.”
Two separate doses of the measles mumps and rubella vaccine are needed to provide immunity against the highly contagious airborne disease, the first dose at 12 months of age and the second usually between the ages of four and six.
Symptoms of the disease that was eradicated in Canada in 1998 include fever, cough, runny nose and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the chest.
Students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District will become the first to get team support, or so-called wraparound care, for those with mental health and addiction challenges.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the integrated teams will work with schools and specialized service providers to offer complete care to students and their families.
Last month, the government announced its 10-year Pathway to Hope program aimed at helping and supporting young people with mental health and addiction challenges.
Darcy says the government has committed $2.5 billion for mental health and addiction services, and that includes $10 million in grants to non-profit groups to offer affordable counselling to youth and families.
The government said the teams will work with those experiencing challenges and their families won’t have to retell their stories to different care providers or search on their own for the supports they need.
Darcy says the new mental health and addiction services model will be implemented in the district by this 2019.
“It is very striking that with all the diversity of perspective and the diversity of experience, there was so much clarity on the way to go,” says Darcy, who made the announcement a Maple Ridge elementary school.
“The Pathway to Hope focuses on our most urgent priorities first, so that we’re helping people when they need it now and reducing demand on services down the road.”
After the government’s program announcement in June, a B.C. coroner’s jury examining the overdose death of 16-year-old Victoria-area youth Elliot Eurchuk called on government to improve early detection of mental health and substance use disorders within schools.
When wildfire smoke enveloped Metro Vancouver last summer, Nikki Rogers noticed soot collecting on the walls of her White Rock condo and closed her windows to keep the bad air out.
“I tried to stay inside because I did not enjoy being outside,” recalled Rogers, who works in a hair salon. “I would never do any kind of exercising or jogging or walking outside because anything that promotes heavy breathing outdoors would be terrible.”
This summer she will take even greater precautions because she is pregnant. And this is the first year that Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver have included pregnant women on their list of people especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, along with asthmatics, the elderly, and people with chronic heart and lung conditions.
Rogers said she will research the best way to keep herself and her baby safe, but laments that wildfire smoke is one more thing expectant mothers will likely need to worry about this July and August.
“We shouldn’t have months of just smoke in the air. That’s just awful,” she said. “Every year it gets worse and worse. It is just getting out of hand.”
Experts believe British Columbians are about to experience another hot, smoke-filled summer, basing their prediction on the higher-than-average temperatures and drought so far in 2019 — a trend that is expected to continue.
“We expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest where we are,” said a Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer, Francis Ries.
Just in the last week, a stubborn wildfire on steep terrain near Lions Bay snarled traffic on the busy Sea to Sky Highway for days, and a fire broke out Monday near Pender Harbour on the Sechelt Peninsula.
Fires started earlier in 2019
Hotter, drier conditions contributed to fires in early spring, far sooner than in other years. Since April 1, the B.C. Wildfire Service has recorded 377 fires that have burned more than 110 square kilometres.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies — a provincial state of emergency was declared both years over wildfires — and much of the haze in Metro Vancouver drifted in from big fires in other parts of B.C.
The smoke led officials to issue a record number of air-quality advisories, and give extensive advice on how residents should try to remain healthy.
This year, local health and municipal agencies added pregnant women to the list of those most vulnerable to the smoke after lobbying by Sarah Henderson, an environmental health scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
She advocated the change based on an “evidence review” and academic research that showed mothers exposed to extreme wildfire smoke give birth to smaller babies.
A University of California, Berkeley study found that pregnant women breathing in wildfire smoke during their second trimester in 2003, a terrible fire season in Southern California, had babies that were about 10 grams lighter than women not exposed to smoke. The results were small but “significant,” researchers found, because they showed “climate change can affect health.”
Ten grams would be enough to “push some babies into a low-birth-weight category,” added Henderson, noting undersized infants can face challenges.
Based on pregnancy and population statistics, Henderson predicts a repeat of last summer’s smoky skies could lead to 20 babies in B.C. being born a bit smaller. It’s not a big number, but one that could hurt 20 families.
“And that is kind of the tip of the iceberg in some ways because nobody has looked at preterm birth or malformations, if that smoke exposure happens to pregnant women,” added Henderson, who is also an associate professor in the UBC school of population and public health.
She has applied for funding to do her own study of the outcome of women who were pregnant in B.C.’s Interior, where the smoke was the thickest during the last two summers.
Wildfire smoke is a toxic, chemical soup
Wildfire smoke contains many pollutants, but the most dangerous to human health is fine particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that are generally 2.5 micrometers or less in size — about one-30th the diameter on a strand of hair.
“The very small particles can be inhaled deeply into your lungs and then get into your blood stream, and irritate and lead to inflammation,” said Emily Peterson, a Vancouver Coastal Health environmental health scientist.
A typical summer day in Metro Vancouver would feature 10 or 15 micrograms a cubic metre of these fine particulates, but during the height of last summer’s smoky skies the quantity jumped tenfold.
Smoky air makes it harder for lungs to get oxygen into the blood stream, and it can irritate the respiratory system and cause inflammation in other parts of the body. Common symptoms include eye irritation, sore throat, coughing, wheezy breathing and headaches, and there is an increased risk of infections for some, such as pneumonia in older people and ear infections in children.
At-risk people — including those with chronic lung or heart conditions and now pregnant women — should “pay attention to the smoke much earlier” this summer, said the VCH medical health officer, Dr. James Lu.
“We do start with the vulnerable population, but if the smoke (concentration) is high enough we do encourage people who are normally healthy to take precautions as well,” Lu added.
Among the precautions backed by medical experts: Stay inside places with filtered air, such as most community centres, libraries or malls; drive with the windows up, the air conditioning on, and the recirculate-air button activated to reduce the amount of smoke getting into your car; and drink lots of water.
Because most people typically spend 90 per cent of their days indoors, Henderson highly recommends buying a portable air cleaner, which plugs into a wall socket and can be moved from room to room. These purifiers remove 40 to 80 per cent of the fine particles found in smoke, but people with respiratory conditions are encouraged to buy higher-performing HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, the Centre for Disease Control says.
If people are outside and want to wear a mask, Henderson said the best option is a well-fitted N95 respirator. A surgical mask can offer limited protection. A cloth mask is close to useless at keeping out the fine particles in smoke.
Doctors’ visits, asthma prescriptions skyrocket
Most people can manage irritations from smoke without medical attention, but those with severe symptoms should see a doctor.
Wildfire smoke caused a slight rise last summer in the number of people visiting Vancouver Coastal Health emergency rooms, although the increase wasn’t even across all communities: North Vancouver and Richmond had more hospital visits, while other cities did not, said Lu.
“What we did see were increased visits with respiratory symptoms, asthma and people short of breath,” the medical health officer told Postmedia.
The B.C. Health Ministry could not provide information about higher traffic in emergency rooms in other health regions, saying its data does not let it differentiate between treatment specifically for wildfire smoke and other respiratory issues.
However, Centre for Disease Control statistics suggest medical services across B.C. were harder hit when wildfire smoke was heavy. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, 45,000 extra doses of asthma medication were dispensed and there were 10,000 extra visits to doctors for asthma-related conditions in B.C., Henderson said.
“It does stack up, the impact is quite extreme,” she said. “On a very smoky day in Metro Vancouver, there were 350 extra doctor visits.”
The Centre for Disease Control tabulates this information daily in the B.C. Asthma Prediction System, which was launched after previous severe wildfire seasons. The surveillance system tracks asthma-related doctor visits and the prescriptions filled for lung conditions, and is used to warn health officials about the anticipated effects of wildfire smoke.
This summer is also expected to experience a boost in asthma treatments, given what happened in May after a significant wildfire near Fort St. John. “We had this one day of smoke in Fort St John, and the asthma visits skyrocketed,” Henderson said.
During the past few years, Vancouver Costal Health has sent reminders to family physicians to help their patients get ready for smoke expected in July and August — such as ensuring medications for patients with chronic heart or lung disease are up to date.
“I think what we are hoping for is to perhaps educate the public and primary-care physicians in helping people to be prepared so that they don’t really need to come to the emergency,” Lu said.
More than 3,000 ‘smoky skies’ bulletins issued
The provincial Environment Ministry issues “smoky skies” warning bulletins when wildfire smoke gets bad in all areas of the province except Metro Vancouver, which releases its own air quality advisories.
In 2017, 1,646 air-quality advisories were issued across B.C., and that jumped to 1,742 in 2018. There have been 69 warnings so far this year, but that number will likely increase as the majority of 2018 bulletins were issued between late July and late August.
The province monitors 63 regions, and six of those have had 100 or more smoky skies bulletins since 2017 due to bad fires nearby, including Quesnel, Penticton, Prince George, Williams Lake and Kamloops. Other communities in B.C.’s Interior and the Cariboo region have also been hard hit, with just under 100 bulletins issued in the last two years in Vernon, Kelowna, Cranbrook and 100 Mile House.
Only Haida Gwaii, off B.C.’s northwest coast, has had no smoke-related air quality warnings since 2017.
The Environment Ministry was unable to provide information about how many advisories it issued in years with far fewer forest fires than 2017 and 2018. But statistics from Metro Vancouver indicate those two years were off the charts.
There were 22 days in Metro Vancouver last summer with poor air quality due to forest fires, mainly between late July and late August. In 2017, it was 19 days of unhealthy amounts of smoke.
The region’s figures, dating back to 1996, showed no other years with near that number of hazy days, the closest being 10 days in 2009 and 2015, when there were also some forest fires. In several years, including 2011, 2013 and 2016, there were no days with poor air quality.
Metro Vancouver’s advisories show much of the air pollution came from forest fires in other parts of the province, but the air was also affected by some local blazes, such as a bog fire in Richmond and a barge blaze in Surrey.
No air quality advisories have been issued so far in 2019; Metro Vancouver said the smoke residents smelled earlier this week from the Lions Bay fire was “below advisory thresholds.”
Some smoke from the Strip Creek wildfire south of Lions Bay has reached western portions of Metro Vancouver. Air quality levels remain below advisory thresholds however concentrations may vary as winds and wildfire behaviour changes. https://t.co/qyfTAdCeW5
Metro Vancouver’s summer 2019 outlook warns of the potential for increased ozone due to higher temperatures and wildfires. Ozone is described as “good up high; bad nearby” — ozone in the atmosphere protects from UV radiation, but when lower to the ground it damages lungs and destroys ecosystems according to a Colorado State University academic paper, Ozone Levels Elevated in Presence of Wildfire Smoke.
“We’ve seen high ozone levels at monitoring stations which we never, under normal circumstances, expect to have high ozone,” said Metro Vancouver’s Ries. “We almost never have high ozone in the western part of the valley, downtown Vancouver and through into Burnaby,” he said, except in 2017 and 2018 when “the highest ozone levels we received were in that part of the region.”
Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
In 2017, 65,000 British Columbians were evacuated and 509 buildings burned during wildfires that scorched 12,000 square km of land. The 2018 forest fires were even more destructive, consuming 13,500 sq. km — although fewer people were evacuated (6,000) and fewer structures lost (158).
Over the last two summers, the provincial government grossly outspent its wildfire budgets — by 10 times in 2017, when it cost more than $650 million to fight the fires. This year, the NDP is trying to be better prepared for the unknown by nearly doubling its wildfire budget, boosting it from $64 million in 2018 to $101 million.
Smoky summers in Vancouver may become “the new normal,” if not every year then at least every other year, VCH’s Lu predicted.
“We do not expect this to go away. This is going to be a way of life, unfortunately,” he said. “So I think the need to include that in your consideration of how to stay healthy is important.”
When Mari-Lynn Cordahi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 21 years ago, she would have welcomed someone to talk to who knew from experience what she was going through.
Today, she fills that role for others newly diagnosed with MS, thanks to her role as a peer mentor on Curatio. Dubbed a ‘social health prescription,’ Vancouver-based Curatio is the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Lynda Brown-Ganzert.
“I’ve connected with people through the Curatio app,” said Cordahi. “One person in the UK, I connected with her within days of her being diagnosed.
“If I put myself back 21 years ago, I know what she is going through. I sure would have appreciated it if something like this had been available then.”
Using a combination of artificial intelligence and private social networks, Curatio’s mobile app fills a gap in our healthcare system, creating personalized support networks for patients and caregivers who are newly diagnosed or navigating their way through an illness or chronic condition.
The idea came to Brown-Ganzert when she was undergoing fertility issues and complications in pregnancy.
“It was when we were having our second child and there were some complications and issues around that,” she said. “I became a patient and found, ‘oh my goodness, there are some really broken pieces here.’
“Being an entrepreneur you’re always thinking how you could fix it. The genesis of Curatio came from that – looking at the isolation, the difficulty patients have navigating, the lack of curated information you can trust that is personalized to you, connecting with others who are similar to you or have gone through the same thing.”
Brown-Ganzert, whose background is in digital media, had spent the previous 10 years building private mobile social networks. Her experience with the healthcare system convinced her that the idea of private social networks could be applied in the healthcare field.
“A good friend of mine had a heart attack and became our first use case,” she said. “With him and together with Alireza (Davoodi), my co-founder, we built a prototype in 40 days, went on to win a global challenge and our first customer and we were off.”
That was five years ago. Today Curatio is used in more than 85 countries and in four languages.
“Where I started from was recognizing social was a missing piece in healthcare transformation. When you start to connect patients, and we have clinical evidence to show this, you have improved outcomes,” said Brown-Ganzert.
When you sign onto the system, an AI agent helps you navigate to find what you need. There are currently three active communities: in heart, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia, an online community ThaliMe, plus you can sign onto the general Curatio network, or as a caregiver.
Along with the social support, the app provides everything from medication reminders to self-assessment, helping patients manage their disease or chronic condition.
Brown-Ganzert took the concept to the Dragon’s Den, winning over three dragons from the television show who are among investors who so far have put US$1.6 million into the company. Curatio counts a number of non-profit patient advocacy organizations as clients, delivering a means to reach patients that complies with privacy and regulatory requirements. The platform is also being used in research, providing a social plugin that helps research teams connect to participants in their community.
For Beverly Sudbury, of Charlottetown, PEI, Curatio creates connections to a global community of people who share a diagnosis of MS.
“For me I like connecting with people and I like finding new sources of information or bouncing ideas off people,” she said.
Sudbury, who is also a peer supporter on the network, said she checks daily to see what’s new.
“It’s building an online community of people you can get support from when you’re having a crappy day,” she said. “They’ll say ‘keep going,’ or they’ll help out with a different perspective.”
Users create their own profile on the app, but they don’t have to use their real name and can choose what information is publicly displayed.
There is also a private chat function.
“For me the chat functionality is fantastic,” said Sudbury.
Unlike friends and family who can’t really understand some of the issues facing people with MS because they haven’t lived with the disease, Sudbury said other patients will know exactly what she is talking about.
“I’ll say ‘I’m tired,” and a friend will say, ‘I know what you mean, I was up really late last night,’” she said. “But it’s not the same.”
Cordahi, who was an elementary school teacher before MS forced her to stop teaching 15 years ago, likes to volunteer since she can’t work and Curatio provides that opportunity to engage.
“When you talk to someone who has gone through this journey, there is definitely a sense of comfort and trust that they understand and are going through something similar – even when it’s difficult subjects or personal things,” she said.
A record number of complaints were filed with health authorities last year over patient care, more than 9,500 according to the Patient Care Quality Review Boards report for 2017/18. Gerry Kahrmann / PROVINCE
That’s up from 8,900 the year before and about 9,000 the year before that.
Patient Care Quality Offices and review boards were formed 10 years ago to give health system users and their families an outlet to voice their frustration. The boards in each health region accept complaints from patients and others only if their concerns about their experiences are not resolved to their satisfaction by Patient Care Quality Offices in each health region.
Less than two per cent of complaints are escalated to the review boards which suggests patients are largely satisfied with how their local health authorities are handling their concerns, said Richard Swift, chair of the Island Health Patient Care Quality Review Board.
Given the fact there are tens of millions of health care interactions, the number of complaints is relatively small, said Swift.
The latest annual report gives scarce information about the nature of complaints and recommended changes but a few of them include:
• A complaint pertained to various issues including extraordinarily long wait time for care in a hospital emergency room for which Island Health acknowledged and apologized. The complaint also involved an allegation that a patient was assaulted by a staff member in the ER. The health authority agreed to develop a policy detailing what actions must be taken when such complaints are made, including when police or regulatory bodies for health professionals should be contacted.
• The Island review board recommended a hospital conduct exit interviews with patients to ask about their satisfaction levels with the quality of care and communication. Currently, the health ministry sends out surveys on a random basis which are then reported to health authorities on a quarterly basis. But Swift says more can be done to ensure patients are given opportunities to comment on their care.
• A care aide escorted a frail patient to the bathroom but then left the patient alone to attend to another matter. The low cognition patient fell in the bathroom. There are more than a dozen policies regarding the prevention of falls, some of which were not followed in this case.
Vancouver Coastal Health
• A complaint was lodged about a vulnerable patient who went to a hospital emergency department. The board said the case was an example of how not to “prejudge patients who appear to be homeless, suffering from mental health, addiction issues and/or other challenges.” In response, hospital staff said there were departmental meetings where staff was reminded about the need to “provide care for the patients as a whole, the importance of listening to patients and their family, and the need to not prejudge patients on any aspect of their presentation.”
• In a case not highlighted in the annual report, a patient bled to death after paramedics could not get access to the individual’s Downtown Eastside building because of multiple security locks on doors and elevators. Health minister Adrian Dix said family members were not satisfied with the way complaints were handled so he has taken the rare step of ordering an independent review.
The case pertains to Tracey Gundersen who bled to death last November after it reportedly took paramedics over half an hour to get to her sixth-floor suite. Firefighters who have master keys to such buildings were eventually dispatched to get paramedics inside. But a few years ago, B.C. Emergency Health Services changed policies and procedures to cut down on multiple crews attending each call so firefighters are no longer sent as first responders to many cases.
Gundersen’s daughter told CBC her mother was dying while on a phone line with a dispatcher and she’s angry that her mother’s case was not treated as life-threatening and that paramedics didn’t call for firefighters’ help sooner, especially since a firehall was just a block away.
• An incapacitated patient’s valuables and personal effects went missing at a hospital and were never recovered so the health region offered $500 in compensation. The board ordered the health region to have designated staff members whose job entails the safekeeping and documentation of patients’ belongings.
• A long-standing complaint going back to 2015 when Northern Health officials were alerted by a staff member to lapses in medical device disinfection and sterilization procedures related to instruments called endoscopes. Thousands of patients had procedures like colonoscopies that relied on the scopes but a consultation with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control did not show any “increase in specific infection types” during the two year period when the errors took place.
Although patients were sent letters to inform them of the breeches, the review board recommended a more fulsome public communication plan including direct meetings with patients or even town hall meetings to broadcast the errors, risks, actions, and any mitigating steps. As well, the region has to ensure that when such things happen, all affected patients should have a doctor who can address any concerns and ongoing needs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.4-billion annual commitment to support women’s global health at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday. LINDSEY WASSON / REUTERS
The federal government is pledging to spend $1.4 billion a year “advancing the health and rights” of women, teens and children around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on the first full day of Women Deliver 2019, an international conference on gender equity being held in Vancouver this week.
The aid package renews Canada commitment to women’s health abroad by pledging to extend the current $1.1 billion a year aid beyond 2020, when it was set to expire, and increase it.
Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, called the 10-year commitment “unprecedented.”
She said the announcement means funding is promised under her government until 2030, and the $1.1 billion amount will increase gradually to $1.4 billion a year by 2023.
A 10-year maternal, newborn and child health policy that expires in 2020 had been brought in in 2010 under the previous Conservative government.
Monsef and her staff said most of the extra funding of $300,000 a year would be spent on the “neglected” area of sexual reproductive health rights, including abortion.
When Trudeau announced the funding commitment at the start of Tuesday’s plenary, he said such funding was needed more than ever.
He noted there are 200 million women around the world who have no access to contraceptives, and he and several other presenters at the conference spoke of “pushback” to gains for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
“The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where rights are increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said in a brief announcement.
Speaking in French, he said only women should have the right to determine what is best for their bodies and that abortion “must be accessible, safe and legal.”
“We can’t talk about sexual and reproductive rights in isolation from the rest of women’s health because, just as there are 200 million women who don’t have access to contraception, hundreds more die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.
The Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) called the federal promise of funding an “historic day.”
“The investment will not only ensure that Canada’s long, proud tradition as a leader in women and children’s health continues, it comes with a purposeful approach that addresses critical gaps in the health needs of women and adolescents,” the organization said in a news release.
It said it renews funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health and nutrition and adds aid for the “most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Its acting executive director, Julia Anderson, said in the release that the funding comes at a critical time “when rollbacks on women’s health rights are being acutely felt around the globe.”
Soon after his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that deliver any counselling or abortion services, no matter what nation pays for that service, from receiving U.S. government support.
A number of U.S. states have recently or are considering abortion bans.
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