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Island Health board chair reflects on challenges and accomplishments of the past year

Leah Hollins
Island Health board chair Leah Hollins. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Leah Hollins

Special to Black Press

2022 challenged publicly-funded health-care systems locally and globally – exacerbated by COVID pandemic impacts and the continuing toxic drug poisoning crisis.

Through these difficult times, I remain deeply appreciative of Island Health staff and physicians’ commitment to support the people and communities we are privileged to serve.

While these challenges will remain for some time, Island Health took action this year to strengthen health and care so it can be there when people need it.

In order to care for our communities, we must support care providers. We are investing in our care teams, recruiting the next generation of care providers, and partnering on training opportunities.

Recruitment campaigns this year generated 5,000 new Island Health employees. We appreciate the provincial government’s expansion of training programs at North Island and Camosun Colleges, and University of Victoria, and Vancouver Island University.

Primary care is a health-care cornerstone. Working in partnership, there are now eight primary care networks operating across Island Health, with over 280 additional physicians and staff working in doctors’ offices, community health centres, First Nation clinics, and urgent and primary care centres. Additional networks are planned for the West Coast and the Gulf Islands; and in North Vancouver Island where two new physicians joined us in Port McNeill in 2022.

We are investing in improved mental health and substance use services – including the expansion of the Nanaimo overdose prevention site, which will expand into a wellness and recovery centre next year, providing comprehensive client services. More than 125 housing spaces to support individuals with complex mental health and substance use challenges are being added in Victoria and Nanaimo.

Providing timely access to surgery is a priority. We postponed surgeries during the pandemic to protect hospital space for the most critically ill. Our teams have now completed over 99 per cent of all postponed cases. We did this in part through increasing hospital operating room hours – including in Duncan, Comox Valley, Nanaimo and the Saanich Peninsula.

Expanding high-quality publicly-funded seniors’ care is a focus. Courtenay welcomed a new long-term care home, and we partnered with Providence Living on a new dementia-focused care home in Comox. Additional long-term care expansions are being planned across the region.

As design and construction of a new Cowichan District Hospital advances we are implementing the Cowichan Valley Health and Care Plan, investing in community services to reduce demand when the new site opens. One plan innovation we are proud of is the award-winning Short-Term Enablement and Planning Suites program, which provides transitional care for patients who can be discharged from hospital, but aren’t quite ready to return home.

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a priority. Our public health teams and partners did a tremendous job helping people prepare for respiratory illness season this fall by encouraging and providing COVID-19 boosters and flu shots. Island Health residents continue to demonstrate their commitment to protect themselves and the health-care system with the highest rates of COVID-19 booster doses and influenza immunizations in B.C.

Having just passed the In Plain Sight Report’s second anniversary– we continue to confront the behaviours, beliefs, and systems that uphold the legacy of colonialism and underpin the racism in our health-care system. Island Health is fully committed to fulfilling all of the recommendations in the report. The foundational work done this year sets us on the right path to providing care that is free of racism, discrimination and stigma.

One of the greatest lessons the pandemic provided was the need to continually adapt and innovate to respond to the changing world around us. Virtual care programs, some already in place, became even more critical to service delivery during the pandemic and were significantly expanded. New programs were also established to respond to emerging needs, including providing remote home monitoring for patients with mild to moderate COVID-19.

Many successes in 2022 came through partnerships – with care providers, social service organizations, local and regional governments, and our critically important hospital and health-care foundations and auxiliaries. We could not have achieved what we did without these and many other partners – and we are incredibly grateful for their contributions.

As we turn our attention to the work ahead in 2023, and the pursuit of our vision of excellent health care for everyone, everywhere, every time; my last gratitude is for the residents and communities across Island Health who continue to hold us up with compassion and pride. It makes all the difference in the world to our teams, and it does for me as well. Thank you.

Leah Hollins is the board chair for Island Health