Island Health takes vaccination drive on the road

Island Health has taken vaccinations on the road, making it easier for people aged 12 and over to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The Vax Van begins service in Nanaimo on Sunday at Maffeo-Sutton Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Monday the vax van will be at Chase River’s Country Club grocers from 1-7 p.m. and Tuesday at Westwood Lake, 1-7 p.m.

“The sun is out and people are active, so we are hitting the road to meet them where they are,” said Dr. Mike Benusic, Medical Health Officer for Island Health. “Immunization opportunities like this will help us to reach as many young and unvaccinated people as we can before school goes back in session and people move indoors in the fall.”

The summer months are busy, and taking time out to get a COVID-19 vaccine can be hard to fit in with life’s many other plans. To help ensure every eligible individual has the opportunity to get their first dose, the Vax Van will visit popular parks, beaches, shopping destinations and events, providing on-the-spot first dose vaccination – no appointment required.

In the weeks ahead, the Vax Van will also visit Port Alberni, Oceanside, Comox Valley, Campbell River, Langford and Sooke. A detailed schedule will be updated on Island Health’s website and publicized locally as we confirm dates and locations.  

Those attending Vax Van clinics are advised to stay hydrated and have something to eat before getting vaccinated, if possible. Although no appointment is required for first doses at any clinic, you can save time by registering in advance at: Getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca

Not in a location where the Vax Van will be visiting? Island Health is offering first dose walk-in immunizations at all of our community clinics, for anyone 12 years and older.

Please note that the Vax Van is only for first doses. Anyone in need of a second dose of vaccine is advised to make an appointment at their nearest mass immunization clinic.

For more information about our vaccine roll-out and COVID-19, visit www.islandhealth.ca.

Partnership tackles substance use, supports for tradespeople

A few years ago, Trevor Botkin felt near the end of his lengthy battle with addiction. “I was struggling to get to work, just spending every ounce of money I had on drugs,” says Botkin, who has been employed in the construction industry for more than 25 years. “I didn’t think there was a way out – and I had been contemplating the ultimate way out for a long time.”

Now, following treatment, Botkin is using his experience to support the Tailgate Toolkit Project – an innovative program that provides access to harm reduction services and supports for those working in construction and other trades. The Vancouver Island Construction Association (VICA) leads the toolkit project in partnership with Island Health; the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions provided funding.

“The aim is to develop a toolkit that is designed to appeal to the character, the culture and the nuances of people who work in construction and the trades,” says Rory Kulmala, VICA’s CEO. “The idea is to produce awareness, training and access to resources – and ultimately to reduce the stigma.”

It’s a timely effort, given that the drug-poisoning crisis has disproportionately harmed those working in the trades. According to the BC Coroner’s Service, 81% of toxic drug fatalities in 2020 involved men, and a majority were aged 30-59. Of those who were employed and suffered a fatal drug poisoning, about half worked in the trades and transport. 

Various reasons are given for this outcome, including self-medicating for physical and emotional pain, and a “cowboy culture” that encourages traditional ideas of masculinity. “The culture in the trades definitely nurtures this sense that we’re tough and immortal and invincible, and we can work through anything,” says Botkin. “We live hard and we work hard and we play hard. And when you start to fail, you don’t want to be that person who can’t handle it, because you stick out like a sore thumb.” 

“Stigma is a real barrier for many people who use substances and are working in the trades and transport sectors,” says Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “The Tailgate Toolkit Project is such a timely and important resource. It will help to remove the stigma that still surrounds addiction while at the same time empowering people to reach out for the help they need and deserve.” 

Today, Botkin is the Executive Director of HeroWork Victoria, a charity that does renovation work for other charities. He also sits on the Tailgate Toolkit advisory committee, which meets regularly to inform the toolkit’s development. The committee includes leaders from the trades, transport and forestry industries, along with representatives from industry associations, harm reduction organizations, trades training programs, the First Nations Health Authority and Island Health. 

Phase one of the initiative, led by VICA project manager Emily Percival-Paterson, recently wrapped up. This included in-depth interviews with members of the construction community who have experience of drug use, or are in supervisory positions and responsible for implementing harm reduction measures. 

Now the focus is on developing the toolkit resources. “It’s about creating stronger communities, saving lives and having a better workforce – linking people to resources and the help that they need so they come back to their team stronger,” says Arlene Hogan, Island Health’s Regional Overdose Response Coordinator. 

The “tools” include a live or virtual talk delivered by VICA’s harm reduction team, focused on substance use and mental health, the toxic drug supply, and harm reduction and recovery resources. Other highlights include training for those in supervisory positions, along with digital and print assets such as posters that can be displayed at job sites. VICA is also partnering with Umbrella Society to provide a support group for those working in construction who are struggling with substance use issues. Weekly group meetings are held on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., and no registration is required.

While VICA’s geographic coverage includes Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, Kulmala is keen to share the toolkit broadly. “Our goal is to package this project in a way so that it can be applied in any health region,” says Kulmala. “We’re not doing this to own it – we’re doing this so that we can make a healthy workforce.”

First-dose vaccine clinic opens at Woodgrove Centre

People aged 12 and older can now get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary walk-in immunization clinic at Woodgrove Centre.
 
The clinic opens on June 22, thanks to a partnership between Island Health and Woodgrove Centre. It is for adults and youth in need of first doses only. Anyone in need of a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine needs to book an appointment through the provincial Get Vaccinated system.
 
The temporary clinic space is located in the previous Le Chateau location next to La Senza at the north end of the mall. While it will be open seven days a week initially, operating hours and the closing date of the clinic are subject to change. 
 
Clinic hours are:
 
·       Monday to Friday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
·       Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
·       Sundays: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
 
In addition to this temporary clinic, Island Health is continuing to provide  a limited number of first-dose walk-in appointments each day at existing mass immunization clinics (such a Beban Park in Nanaimo) and expanding the number of appointments available for booking.
 
To ensure your vaccination appointment, you can register and book an appointment through the provincial Get Vaccinated system.
 

More than half a million Islanders vaccinated

Dr. Richard Stanwick

0528 - More than half a million Island residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This milestone was reached on May 27.

“As the number of people we vaccinate continues to rise, the level of protection against this virus grows daily,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer. “Our teams and partners are working hard to get vaccine doses into arms and we should all feel optimistic about how setting this historic record is helping in our fight against COVID-19.”

In December 2020, Island Health began administering the COVID-19 vaccine, starting in Phase 1 with health care workers at a single clinic in Victoria, expanding to include health care worker clinics in communities throughout the region, as well as directly in places like long-term care homes and assisted living sites.

Since then we have immunized 506,251 people (65% of the 12+ population in Island Health’s region) with their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 29,773 with their second.

First-dose vaccine eligibility is expanding with increasing speed. Today, the program is firmly in Phase 3, with people aged 12 and over being booked to receive their vaccines at 17 clinic sites across the region.

“This is a really important milestone for us, but we’re not done yet,” says Stanwick. “We are thankful to everyone who has chosen to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.  We all have a part to play and every dose administered gets us closer to controlling the spread of this virus.” 

Everyone who is 12 or older in BC can register for their vaccine. Visitwww.getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca or call 1-833-838-2323 to register. 

Highlights of Island Health’s COVID-19 vaccination program

  • In the last week, Island Health has increased immunizations at community clinics to approximately 9,000 doses per day.
  • We have completed clinics in 28 rural and remote locations for individuals 18+ through Island Health’s Whole Community Approach. Locations include the Gulf Islands, North Island and West Coast. These clinics were strongly supported by a wide variety of community partners, from service clubs to regional districts to volunteer fire departments and local volunteers.  Second dose clinics are now being scheduled for these communities.
  • In collaboration with First Nations and First Nations Health Authority, more than 11,500 people in approximately 50 First Nations communities received a first dose. This includes rural and remote as well as urban First Nations communities. Second dose clinics are now underway in these communities.   
  • More than 9,000 residents and over 11,000 staff of 115 long-term care and assisted living homes, as well as more than 1,600 essential visitors, are receiving their second doses of vaccine. 
  • More than 27,000 healthcare workers and medical staff who were prioritized in Phases 1 and 2 of the Province’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan have received their first doses and many have already received a second dose.
  • Community Health Nurses have provided more than 2,800 in-home vaccinations for home support clients who are unable to leave their homes. 
  • In collaboration with community partners we have reached approximately 55% of the Island’s estimated population of people who are unhoused or use shelters. This work involved outreach to shelters, soup kitchens, park encampments and even a laundromat.
  • Island Health has expanded our teams of clinic staff and immunizers to successfully provide first doses to all eligible individuals who want the vaccine before the end of June.
  • More than 375 volunteers are working to assist people at immunization clinics.
  • Hundreds of immunizers from different specialities - including nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, midwives, medical students, pharmacists, dental hygienists, dentists, naturopaths, community paramedics, and firefighters have joined the vaccination effort. 

Lone-user drug awareness campaign launched

Island Health has launched an awareness campaign for men who use drugs to help prevent overdose deaths and support men to break the silence about their drug use. 

“People use drugs for many, complex reasons, and often even the people closest to those who’ve overdosed didn’t know they were using,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “That’s why breaking down stigma about who uses drugs is so important. Let’s have open conversations that encourage people to break the silence and reach out for help.”

Last year in the Island Health region, 263 people died from illicit drug toxicity. Of those people, 225 were men - and 126 of them were in a private residence when they overdosed. 

“We know that among those who die from toxic drug poisoning, men who use alone are at greatest risk,” said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s Vice President, Population Health & Chief Medical Health Officer. “We want them to know their lives matter - and there are supports and treatments to help keep them alive.” 

The campaign is aimed at men, primarily those employed in skilled trades and transport. Historical data from the BC Coroners Service (Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths in BC) shows that half of the men who died from toxic drugs were employed and of those, 55% worked in the trades and transport industry. 

People who use drugs and live with addictions may hide their drug use to avoid judgement and discrimination. Using alone is the result, and it puts them at higher risk of death from accidental overdose. If an individual is alone when they overdose, their ability to seek medical help diminishes greatly. 

There are alternatives to using alone – such as using in the presence of someone who can administer naloxone or call for help if needed, testing drugs and using a small amount to start, or accessing online resources such as the Lifeguard App or the National Overdose Response Service overdose prevention hotline (1-888-688 NORS [6677]). Island Health also operates supervised consumption or overdose prevention services in many communities in the region. 

 

Throughout the 8-week campaign, outreach will be through social media, radio and streaming messages, and display ads in transit shelters. Island Health’s web page will provide available resources, including locations for Overdose Prevention and Supervised Consumption Services. 

 

British Columbia has been the epicentre of the overdose epidemic in Canada, experiencing a fivefold increase in illicit drug toxicity deaths between 2010 and 2020. There have been over 7,000 overdose deaths in B.C. since 2016, surpassing annual deaths from car crashes, suicides, and homicides combined and leading to a decline in life expectancy at birth in B.C. The drug poisoning crisis in B.C. is deepening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, with an average of five lives being lost to illicit drug toxicity every day. 

Looking for more information? Reach out for help by calling BC Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Services at 1-800-663-1441. Free, multilingual telephone assistance is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or visit https://www.islandhealth.ca/our-services/mental-health-substance-use-services/overdose-prevention-services.

Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Sandra Allison will be available via Zoom at 1 p.m. on May 4 to answer questions from media. If you would like to receive the Zoom link, please RSVP to Dominic.abassi@viha.ca.

 

Health-care workers need your help

Dr. Richard Stanwick

The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is here and like all of us, our health-care teams are ready to put the pandemic behind them. For more than a year, public health teams, medical staff, staff and care providers across Island Health have focused their energies on preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and keeping you and your loved ones safe. This unprecedented effort continues, in addition to other important, everyday health-care needs beyond the pandemic. You can help by following public health orders and guidelines.

As the detailed April 16 presentation from the Province showed, COVID-19 cases remain high in our communities and we are seeing an increasing presence of the new Variants of Concern. Our Public Health teams are working long hours in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our communities through testing and collection, case and contact management, and vaccinations.

But our health-care teams are tired. Many are on the verge of exhaustion. We are immensely proud of all the people who work so tirelessly to keep our health system running. In recent days, there also has been discussion about acute care occupancy and available critical care beds. Island Health has the necessary infrastructure and capacity with respect to critical care beds and ventilators. But occupancy numbers and ventilator supply doesn’t tell the full story. For every person in a critical care bed, whether they are being treated for COVID-19 or another serious medical condition, a team of dedicated professionals is required to deliver care. It is a system that relies on people. Our people are dedicated, diligent and resilient, and their commitment to providing excellent care is unwavering. But they are being stretched to their limit as this pandemic continues.

COVID-19 is swift. Right now, we are a third of the way to achieving community immunity and we need to adhere to public health orders and guidelines to prevent overloading our health-system. 

We acknowledge the global pandemic continues to be an extremely challenging experience for so many. We appreciate everything the community has done to support us, and we look forward to the continued roll-out of vaccine. Until we have sufficient community immunity, help reduce the burden on the health-care system by not gathering indoors with people we don’t live with, avoiding all non-essential travel by staying local, and staying home when sick. Your efforts to stick to these principles are a show of support for our frontline workers. And they need all that support more than ever right now. 

Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vice President Population Health and Chief Medical Health Officer, and
Dr. Ben Williams, Vice President, Medicine and Quality and Chief Medical Executive

Island Health advises of toxic drug overdoses

0422 - Island Health is urging people to use strategies to stay safer when using drugs. Due to the toxic drug supply, there is currently an increase in overdoses across the Island.

Island Health has issued overdose advisories for Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox Valley and Campbell River.

If you use drugs, stay safer by following these steps if someone overdoses:

  • Call 9-1-1 right away 
  • Provide rescue breathing
  • Give Naloxone

Strategies for safer use:

  • Visit your local Overdose Prevention Service (OPS)
  • Have your drugs checked at your local OPS
  • Carry Naloxone and have an overdose response plan
  • Do a tester; try a little before your regular hit
  • Fix with a friend; if alone, be close to help
    • Try the LifeguardApp on your phone www.lifeguarddh.com
    • Contact the National Overdose Response Service at 1-888-688-6677
  • Stagger your use with a friend, so someone can respond if needed

Island Health asks everyone to create safe space for respectful dialogue around substance use. People from all walks of life use drugs for different reasons. We are all human. We all experience differing traumas and having different coping strategies. We all need connection and compassion. Starting a conversation could save a life.

If you or someone you know needs support, there is help. Resources are available at IslandHealth.ca/StopOverdose.

Nanaimo hospital reports another virus case

0416 - Island Health’s outbreak response has identified one additional case related to the outbreak declared on April 14 in the High Intensity Rehab Unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH).

The additional case, in a patient, was identified through testing of all patients on the unit. All other test results in patients were negative. Testing of staff on the unit continues and all results received to date have been negative. In total, four patients have tested positive related to this outbreak.

Until further notice, no new admissions will be allowed to the High Intensity Rehab Unit, and staff working between other units is restricted. No patients from the unit will be transferred to long-term care or assisted living.

The outbreak remains limited to the High Intensity Rehab Unit and no other areas of the hospital are currently affected. The hospital is still a safe place and people should not avoid seeking emergency care if they require it. All outpatient services and scheduled procedures will continue as normal.

Island Health has implemented comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to COVID-19 in long-term care, acute care, assisted living and independent living facilities.

Communication with patients, families and staff is ongoing.

For more information about COVID-19, please visit: www.islandhealth.ca/covid19.

Work launched on new hospital intensive care unit

Dignitaries from levels of government were on hand for the sod turning. /VIHA photo

People in Nanaimo will soon have a modern intensive care unit (ICU) at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH), with construction now underway.

"This past year has demonstrated how crucial it is to invest in and maintain a strong public health-care system," said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. "The need for a new ICU for the people of Nanaimo was clear, and I'm proud that our government responded with both a technological upgrade and an expansion in size."

The new ICU will be three times the current unit's size and will include improvements such as 12 larger single-patient rooms, ceiling mounted service booms and overhead patient lifts, a medication room, a family consult room, and a staff break room and rest area.

It will also include a space for a high-acuity unit, a transitional place where critical-care patients need less monitoring than in the ICU.

"This new and expanded ICU is wonderful news for the people of Nanaimo and surrounding area," said Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo. "The community has been advocating for a new ICU for years, and I am proud to be part of the government that is delivering the services they so need."

The current 10-bed ICU, built in 1970, is outdated in its space and functionality. Once a formal request was received from Island Health in October 2017, the Ministry of Health moved forward with planning, approval and now construction to ensure residents have access to a facility that will provide enhanced care.

"I'm thrilled that the people of this region will have an improved ICU, which will benefit patients and health-care workers. With ICU demand expected to increase in coming years due to a growing population, especially in older adults, this project is necessary for the well-being of our current and future residents," said Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

The new ICU will cost $41.57 million, which will be cost shared between the provincial government through Island Health, the Nanaimo Regional Hospital District and the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation.

The project will create approximately 200 direct and 100 indirect jobs.

The new ICU is expected to open for patients in early 2023 and will be located south of the current emergency department.

Quotes: 

Leah Hollins, Island Health board chair -

"It is fantastic to see the construction begin on the new ICU at Nanaimo General Regional Hospital. The new space is triple the size of the current ICU, providing care teams the space they need to deliver quality care for patients today and into the future."

Ian Thorpe, chair, Nanaimo Regional Hospital District -

"The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is for our region to have state-of-the-art medical facilities and sufficient resources to respond to the critical health-care needs of our residents. The new ICU will be a significant addition to our local hospital. We are very pleased to be a funding partner and to see construction getting underway."

Janice Perrino, chief executive officer, Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation -

"This past year has shown all of us how important our ICU is to the residents of the central and north Island, and we are thrilled to see construction starting today. To date, we have raised an incredible $4 million towards our $5 million goal for the medical equipment in the new ICU. Thank you to everyone for your generosity and commitment to this project."