As I mark my first anniversary as Board Chair of Interior Health, I’m looking back on the highlights and challenges of 2015. From wildfires that blazed through much of our region, to major investments in surgical care, and a change in leadership within our organization, it has been quite a year.
We saw the departure of Dr. Robert Halpenny as President and CEO and in October, we announced his successor, Chris Mazurkewich. Prior to working with Alberta Health Services, Chris was Chief Operating Officer, Strategic & Corporate Services at Interior Health. It is great to have him back.
In September, we welcomed the first patients to the new Interior Heart & Surgical Centre. Located in Kelowna, this state-of-the-art facility now delivers the highest level of surgical care ever seen in the Interior. We are thrilled to offer this calibre of health care to residents from every corner of our region.
With less than a year to go before the opening of the Clinical Services Building in Kamloops, a business plan is under development for a new patient care tower, the next phase of redevelopment at Royal Inland Hospital.
Planning is also underway in Merritt for the redevelopment of the Emergency Department at Nicola Valley Hospital and Health Centre.
In Ashcroft, a new temporary bus service is taking area patients to medical appointments in Lillooet with the physicians who will relocate to Ashcroft in the New Year upon completion of their Practice Ready Assessments.
An innovative outreach program is helping patients in the Cariboo access urology care closer to home. Urologists from Royal Inland Hospital now travel to 100 Mile District General Hospital to provide urology services for patients there.
A significant milestone was reached this year when our Board approved the Letter of Understanding with the Ulkatcho First Nation, the last of eight health agreements that create a strong partnership to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal people.
We continue to develop new ways to use telehealth to help patients living outside of major urban centres. For example, a service introduced this year will help families in the Cariboo and Chilcotin region whose babies may have hearing loss, stay closer to home for testing by linking an audiometric technician in Williams Lake with an audiologist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Our work to expand access to HIV testing and treatment has led to significant increases in screening for the disease. Since 2013, HIV testing in the region has increased by 50 per cent. Screening is a critical step in controlling and eventually ending the AIDS epidemic.
Throughout the year I really enjoyed meeting staff, physicians, volunteers, and our elected officials. We managed to cover a lot of territory including Barriere, Chase, Clearwater, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm. These visits are a priority for myself and the CEO, and over the coming year we will visit other communities in the region.
There is much to celebrate, but we also have much to accomplish. In an effort to decrease demand on hospital and residential services, we are shifting our focus to integrated primary and community care, embracing new approaches that not only benefit our patients but also the health-care system.
At Interior Health, every person matters and I am extremely proud of the staff, physicians and volunteers who demonstrate this philosophy every day in their dedication to quality health care. Our current board is exceptionally engaged and, for the first time, has a majority of women serving and chairing half of the board committees. I am confident that the next year will bring plenty of change for the better.