This is a busy time of year, but I find it’s also a time of reflection, particularly as January marks the end of my two-year term as chairperson and my 10 years serving on the board of Interior Health.
In an effort to decrease demand on hospital and residential services, we continue to shift our focus to integrated primary and community care. We are developing new approaches and solutions that will benefit patients while making our health care system more sustainable.
This year also had good news for individuals that may require residential care with the announcement of 243 additional beds, including 35 in Penticton. This is in addition to the 100 beds opening in Kelowna early in 2017, and 85 beds opening in Vernon in mid-2017.
There were several other important announcements this year.
Since June, MyHealthPortal has been introduced at nine hospital locations, with more to come. More than 2,300 patients have enrolled to obtain secure 24-hour access to their health information on their smart phone, tablet or computer through a portal on the Interior Health website, inviting patients to take more ownership of their health care.
In Vernon in February, the community celebrated completion of the Polson Tower when the top floors were completed and opened.
Since an initial announcement in 2015, community paramedics have been hired in the prototype communities of Creston and Princeton.
The second round of hiring for the remaining communities is now occurring. This initiative is the first of its kind in Canada and will provide residents of rural and remote communities with better access to primary health care and a more stabilized paramedic presence for emergency response.
While the last year had several milestones that are to be celebrated, it also had its share of heart-break as we saw record numbers of overdose deaths in many Interior Health communities and across the province.
Each of these deaths represents a loss no doubt deeply felt in many homes this holiday season. In response, we’ve established an emergency incident management team to focus on enhanced fatal and non-fatal overdose surveillance, and increased accessibility to harm reduction tools including take home naloxone (THN) kits. We are exploring safe consumption services (SCS) in our highest risk communities, scaling-up substance use services for people who use drugs that are at highest risk of overdose, and providing population based education and prevention.
Still, it is clear we need to do more, and we were excited when 73 new substance use treatment beds were announced in April, including 57 support recovery beds and 16 withdrawal management beds for communities across Interior Health.
As I look back on my time with Interior Health, what really stands out for me is the people I have met along the way. My visits to rural sites and remote First Nations communities were always engaging and I found it an honour to be welcomed to these communities.
The employees, physicians and volunteers throughout Interior Health are truly first-rate and I will always be proud of the time I served on the board, and everything we have accomplished together.
Wishing you all of the best in 2017.
Interior Health board chairperson