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Health board offers public forum

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:05 PDT, Thu June 6, 2019

At an evening highlighting the community’s strong connectedness to Richmond Hospital, Vancouver Coastal Health shared future improvements and challenges while acknowledging concerns of people coping with health care issues.

Vancouver Coastal Health Board chair Dr. Penny Ballem opened the June 4 forum with more than the standard recognition of the unceded territory of the Musqueam peoples. Citing the release of the findings of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry, she called reconciliation a critical part of the health board’s work and of all Canadians.

“We all need to figure out how we are going to address those very, very critical issues,” she said.

A physician herself, who still comes to Richmond a couple of days each month as a hematologist, Dr. Ballem practiced medicine on the forefront early in the AIDS crisis, before the disease’s cause was even known.

When the next speaker was asked what she worries about, VCH president and chief executive officer Mary Akenhusen said, “what keeps you up at night are the people.”

Originally from an engineering background, Akenhusen’s journey into health care includes an impressive resume in a variety of disciplines affording her many different perspectives from which to see a situation and seek solutions.

She acknowledged, “People are truly our greatest asset. Money isn’t truly our biggest constraint. It will be having the people to fill the jobs to provide expert healthcare.”

Akenhusen cited the problems of an aging population in Richmond and an aging workforce.

“We are seeing more retirement and more vacancies than we would normally,” she said.

To find and retain workers, Akenhusen said, “we are trying to be a more innovative employer.”

One innovation suggested was 24-hour day care for employees’ children. Martha Friendly’s report, “Flexible Daycare in Canada,” cites hospital workers as one of the main groups needing care that is both outside regular hours and close to work. Such daycare often retains more workers.

Another speaker, Dr. Nancy Austin, special senior medical director and the head of emergency medicine at Richmond Hospital, said “When i started here I had heard that Richmond is a small community hospital. What became really clear in less than a day, is that Richmond Hospital is not a small community hospital. It is an extremely active and important part of our health care system.”

Austin listed five main areas of concern:

• Population and family health

• Acute care services

• Mental health and substance use

• Home care

• Long term care

Austin then spoke of the five main areas of concern: population and family health, acute care services, mental health and substance use, home care, and long term care.

Ballem said health care in Richmond is also being challenged by a high and growing immigrant population. She said the high percentage of seniors already here is expected to grow by 77 per cent.

One accomplishment she spoke of with pride is that in 2018-19 surgeons performed 1,072 knee and hip replacement, over 339 more than the year before.

Calling it pain-relieving surgery that improves quality of life, she said the hospital has already surpassed Health Ministry targets by 41 cases this year.

One of the things that freed up operating rooms was moving cataract surgeries to Vancouver’s Mt. St. Joseph’s Hospital near Kingsway Avenue; something that was discussed during the question period with hope that VCH will take another look at bringing this life-altering procedure back to the community.

Austin also spoke of the new tower for Richmond Hospital thanking, as most speakers did, the generous donation of the Greczmiel family as well as the hard and effective work done by Hospital Foundation president and chief executive officer Natalie Meixner “so instrumental in garnering support for this project.”

“I am so thrilled that this is now underway. Our hospital is bursting at the seams,” Austin said.

Laura Case, vice-president of community and employee engagement at Vancouver Coastal Health spoke of the Community Health Access Centre coming soon.

She says the centre at Alderbridge Way and Lansdowne Road will be, “a centre to bring all of health care services in the community together, a one-stop place where everyone can come to get a lot of their health care needs.”It will be a place where teams of healthcare professionals work in concert with physicians.

Case says the centre has been approved and the next step is to post requests for construction bids.

Case also spoke from the heart about her ongoing experiences caring for elderly parents and in-laws. She knows first-hand the challenges a frail elder’s needs can visit upon an entire family.

“In Richmond, we have more than tripled our respite capacity gone from five beds for 24-hour care to 12 spaces. It’s a really, really significant leap,” she said.

Respite care offers those taking care of a frail elder a break be it a day to get things done, a much-needed weekend away, or a chance to attend a conference or family event.

As well as bringing home care workers back into the health care system from the private sector, Case said, “we are increasing our investment in home support. Most people as they age want to stay at home. They often need additional service. They can need home support two to four times a day or, sometimes, 24 hours a day. In Richmond we have invested an extra $3 million in home support and we are also improving infrastructure.”

In a program that echoes the long-standing Saskatoon community clinic model of integrated health care, where all professionals work together to see patients, often in one visit, Case said the health region is adding over $20 million into Richmond for coordinated health care for patients.

“They will be able to see, for example, a nurse, a dietician, or a physiotherapist, not just your family doctor,” she said. “They will have a whole team starting this fall, rolling out over next couple of years, one place for all health care needs.”

For those juggling a family and a schedule, be it for work, elder care or their own health care, getting the medical help you need in one visit to one place is a godsend. While it provides better health care, this system saves money too.

Case also talked of the additional long-term care beds that are coming on stream in Richmond. “Primary care networks to care for our seniors and frail elders.”

She mentioned as an example the trellis project on Hamilton lands on Westminster Highway.

“We anticipate an occupancy date for those 135 beds is mid-2020. That is next year,” she said.

At that point, those assembled heard from Dr. Aleco Alexiadis, the medical director of palliative care for the health region. His words, more powerful than his voice hoarse by seasonal allergies, spoke of the need to be sensitive to different values in the wide variety of cultures found in Richmond.

“When I came to Richmond six years ago I was fearful. A big piece of the work was working with the local community. That was really, really important,” he said.

He and his team work to explore the cultural barriers at the end of life. He spoke of the unique cultural perspectives they gain through meeting with 13 community organizations from groups such as the Chinese, Philippino, and Indo-Canadian communities.

“We found that many of challenges were around language abilities. It was really an opportunity to educate our health care teams that the words and phrases we use are critically important.”

With ongoing work to do, he spoke of the need for a sustained system of cultural engagement.

Chief operating officer for Vancouver acute care, Vivian Eliopoulos then spoke of community investments in a host of services in Richmond. And in her closing remarks, passed the microphone back to CEO Ballem who spoke of the important role public health officers: “over last 16 years they have really had an effect on the thinking.”

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