Long-term, Gabriola could have health-care advisory committee reporting to Island Health

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, August 11 2015

Getting Gabriolans more control over improvements and changes to their local health care programs [and facilities] is what is at the core of the new “reorganization” being discussed by the Island Health Region and representatives of Gabriola.

Dr. Drew Digney, the Executive Director and Executive Medical Director of the geographic region that includes Gabriola, spoke to the Sounder this past week to give more details on the press release issued July 17 by Island Health (published page 2 this edition of the Sounder.)

Essentially, Island Health is moving to a more local geographic focus instead of having offices in Victoria be the point of contact for everything under the “health care” banner.

According to Digney, consultations that started three years ago heard communities saying, “no one knows who to talk to.”

“There was no island face someone could talk to - someone who could at least point out what or where to go.”

He added there is also the recognition at Island Health by way of the new CEO that, going forward, Health Authorities and the Ministry of Health are not going to be able to do what needs to be done without local help.

“We are already taking up a significant chunk of the provincial budget - anything else we take away comes from somewhere else.

“What we need to do is take the resources and match that up with other people that have time, energy and some funding, at a community level.”

He pointed out that the Gabriola Health Care Foundation and the building of the Community Health Centre “is a perfect example of what you can do when people have a common end point.

“To get a building built - without going through the channels and prioritization. The community just went and did it.

“What we need to do is ask how to match that up in a mindful way alongside Island Health resources.”

The first goal according to Digney is talking to Gabriola, talking to the doctors, and getting a sense of what is already happening on the island.

“Asking what is some low hanging fruit that we can use our resources for to achieve goals.”

His example is to ask if there’s a way to prevent off-island health care staff being stuck in a ferry lineup instead of seeing patients.

Currently, if a staff person is going off island at the end of the day, he/she has to be in line 45 minutes or so ahead of the actual loading of the ferry.

That’s 45 minutes, according to Digney, which is wasted time when that staff person could be seeing patients.

He’d like to work things out with BC Ferries so that Island Health staff heading off island can have priority loading and not have to line up to get off Gabriola.

“There is no sense to having someone sitting in a car rather than sitting in front of a patient. Having that resource sitting there is a waste, has a zero value.

“I’m sure the vast majority of the people would also agree they would let a nurse go to the front of the line - rather than sit in a car for the time to look after patients.

“There’s a simple win-win where we can increase the services by not spending money.”

Common sense items like that are also why Digney sees the need to have local input coming in to Island Health.

As part of this reorganization, there is now a community director (Shelley McKenzie) and medical director (Dr. Derek Poteryko) assigned specifically to the Nanaimo-Oceanside area (which includes Gabriola).

Digney said McKenzie’s sole job is to oversee the resources and service delivery in the Naniamo-Oceanside communities.

“That is new - up till now - that role and focus was a region-wide service with staff usually based out of Victoria. We’ve made a real investment to be able to put that resource into who has that focus - I think there is value in that.”

Digney said Island Health is also creating networks of care in each community.

He used Cowichan Now as an example: a consortium of community groups that have come together and are representing the area when meeting with representatives from Island Health to look for gaps and how to fill those gaps.

“As we get our feet under us, one of the things we need to set up is to have a similar network on Gabriola.”

Asked what that might look like down the road, Digney said things are way too new to say.

Even the area including Gabriola is still unnamed, simply referred to as “Geography 2, Nanaimo, Oceanside, Alberni, West Coast and Gabriola.”

The long-term plan for the reorganization is to have public consultation - both in the form of online feedback and open community meetings. The timeline for when that will happen is also still being determined.

Digney said even the preliminary meetings on Gabriola with doctors and representatives from the Gabriola Health Care Foundation (GHCF) bore fruit.

“We were so impressed with Gabriola. This is a community that really has it together and is a poster child for integrating what the community can do and how we can link in.

“To get that clinic through the normal channels would have taken a long time, or not have happened at all, because of prioritizations.”

Digney said the model of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee could be used as a way to set up a health care advisory committee.

“The long-term goal is to have a community advisory committee - the intent is there.”

Who is on that committee, be they representatives of the GHCF, the doctors, People for a Healthy Committee or other interested parties, is also something Island Health will be working on as they move forward.