Island Health board chair Leah Hollins. (Lexi Bainas/News Staff)

Island Health board chair Leah Hollins. (Lexi Bainas/News Staff)

ISLAND HEALTH COLUMN: New year focus on vaccinations, opioid crisis, racism in healthcare

Island Health says while there is much work ahead, there is hope

By Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live and connect with each other in ways we never would have imagined just one year ago. Island Health has risen to the challenge by continuing to provide health and care, while responding to a pandemic and an incredibly challenging opioid overdose crisis.

As we look back at the past year – and look ahead to the year to come – we must pause to remember those we lost from these two public health emergencies.

Throughout the Island Health region, we have been fortunate to see fewer COVID-19 positive cases than many other jurisdictions. I am often asked ‘what is different here?’ COVID-19 appeared later at Island Health, giving us the opportunity to implement precautions much earlier. We mobilized quickly, learning from others on what we needed to do to keep our seniors and communities safe, and took action. As new information and experiences arose, we adapted our response.

While this was an important aspect of our response, the number one reason we have seen lower positive cases are the direct actions from the people in our communities, which have kept this virus from spreading and helped protect our health care system and each other.

Washing your hands, keeping at least two metres apart, wearing a mask in public spaces, staying home when you are sick, and getting tested if you have symptoms; these are the fundamentals of defeating the virus.

From the very early days of the pandemic, we have been stronger together even when we have had to stay physically apart. People supported health care workers in creative ways from putting hearts in windows, to making noise at 7 p.m. each day when the pandemic first hit. I’ve heard from care providers all across the region that these actions made a difference and helped lift them up.

Even with the incredible focus on fighting COVID-19, we have continued moving forward on initiatives to improve health and care in our region. Over the past year, with the support of the province, we have opened the James Bay Urgent Primary Care Centre and Health Care on Yates in Greater Victoria, expanded our use of virtual care, initiated Hospital at Home, and expanded our use of technology to enable more patients to receive care in their homes. After a nine-week pause in scheduled surgeries, we reopened operating rooms by the end of May, and we have seen surgical volumes averaging 10 per cent above last year, and are on track to recover by summer of 2021.

READ ALSO: Victoria’s first urgent primary health clinic set to open in James Bay this month

READ ALSO: New nurse practitioner-led medical clinic welcomes Victoria patients

After beginning to see some light in our response to the opioid crisis in 2019, reducing the number of overdose deaths, the pandemic set us back, enabling a more toxic drug supply and driving up the number of people we have lost. In partnership with the province, municipalities and front line service providers, we are developing new pathways to support vulnerable populations.

READ ALSO: Pandemic aggravates opioid crisis as overdoses rise and services fall out of reach

Longstanding injustices from anti-Indigenous racism also came to the forefront in the B.C. health care system in 2020. An investigation led by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond identified widespread anti-Indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system – including at Island Health. Racism has no place in health and care – in fact, it goes against everything we believe in – and we will not look the other way when it is exposed. The Truth and Reconciliation Report stressed change must first begin with understanding the truth. We are committed to make lasting changes by hearing the truth and responding with change.

READ ALSO: Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The importance of public health under the leadership of our medical health officers have guided our day to day lives in ways we haven’t experienced in our lifetime. Public health is the basis for overall health and wellness, from ensuring our air and water is clean, to promoting the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, to immunizations against disease.

As we head into 2021, our public health officials are now leading a new and bold initiative – immunizing our population against COVID-19. It is the beginning of the end of the pandemic; and while there is much work to do before this virus is defeated, there is hope.

READ ALSO: Vaccines for general public on Vancouver Island not expected anytime soon

Leah Hollins is the board chair of Island Health

ColumnIsland HealthOpinion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Victoria police arrested a man Jan. 15 after he rammed his minivan into an occupied police vehicle. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria man arrested for ramming minivan into occupied police vehicle

Man caught after fleeing, crashing into cement retaining wall

Mayor Rob Martin and Costa Canna president Phil Floucault cut the ribbon on Colwood’s first cannabis retail store. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Cowichan Tribes’ Costa Canna cannabis store opens in Colwood

Cowichan Tribes has one-year deal to grow, sell cannabis

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read