Doug Cochrane, chair of the Interior Health board. Photo Credit: Contributed

IH board chair: Facing new challenges

Dr. Doug Cochrane moves from surgical ward to heading up health service delivery

It’s been almost two months since Doug Cochrane was appointed chair of the Interior Health board.

Recruited by health minister Adrian Dix, Cochrane is in the midst of a steep learning curve trying to familiarize himself with the complexities of a health region that stretches across B.C.’s southern Interior from the Canada-U.S. border, to the Alberta-B.C. border to the South Okanagan, and north past Williams Lake.

“My past experience didn’t really prepare me for the diversity and variety of health care services that exists within the Interior Health Authority,” Cochrane said.

“It’s been a bit of a baptism under fire.”

Black Press had an opportunity recently to interview Cochrane and ask about his thoughts on some of the issues facing the health region.

Personal background

Cochrane has now resided in West Kelowna for the past couple of years but his family presence in the Okanagan dates back more than 35 years.

“I have relatives and senior members of our family who have lived here for many years and they are always telling me what to do,” he laughed.

A pediatric neurosurgeon, Cochrane obtained his medical degree at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1975, followed by training in neurosurgery at the University of Calgary.

A pediatric neurosurgery fellowship followed at the University of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, which he completed in 1981.

He then worked at several different Alberta health care institutions before being appointed as staff neurosurgeon at B.C. Children’s Hospital and Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.

Prior to his IH appointment, Cochrane was serving as the chair of the B.C. Patient Safety & Quality Council, and was the provincial patient safety and quality officer for B.C.

Cochrane, 66, has two daughters and three grandchildren but still wants to be active and involved.

“I never did learn how to golf and my hips and knees preclude me from skiing so I look to contribute my time in other ways.”

Appointed to new job

Cochrane says the opportunity to become chair of the Interior Health board came as a bit of a surprise.

“I got a call from the minister of health (Adrian Dix) asking if I would consider doing this. I’m not sure why he particularly chose me, but he did make the call and made that request of me. I took some time to contemplate and think about it before I agreed to it.”

Cochrane suspects his administrative experience serving with the B.C. Patient Safety & Quality Council might have played a part in his appointment.

“This is a new challenge for me, absolutely. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, you have a narrow kind of focus on your patient’s health care…but it has become apparent to me that at times in your life you can provide services that impact the lives of individuals, and times when your knowledge can impact the health care system. Now I am at that latter stage.

“So after helping individual patients over many years, I thought now lets see how to make the health care system work better to meet the needs of more people. That is the challenge before me and I thought it would be a good challenge to be a part of.”

Health care administration vs. surgery

As a neurosurgeon, Cochrane says he has been exposed to hospital and provincial health care administration needs and challenges.

“I have a sense of how some aspects of the system works, but this is different,” he admits of becoming IH board chair. “With a health care region of this size, there are different environments, different communities, different collaborations and relationships.”

The urban vs. rural health care service demands are part of that learning curve for him.

“Every organization and every facility has its own culture, but when you don’t go out and see other environments, you don’t see what those other cultures are like.”

So far, Cochrane has made a visit to the Kootenays and attended the IH aboriginal caucus as part of achieving a wider perspective of health care services within the region.

First Nations

Cochrane applauds the major steps taken by the health board, president and chief executive officer Chris Mazurkewich and past chairs John O’Fee and Erwin Malzer to build better health care service relationships with Indigenous communities across the health region.

“Lots of work has and is being done to support community care, and I must say for someone new to the system, it is significant the emphasis on cultural safety that IH has organized through all aspects and facilities of health care,” Cochrane said.

Recent: IH commits $2 million annually for First Nations elders care

Most recent evidence of that was an announcement earlier this month of IH contributing $2 million on an ongoing basis for nursing service enhancement to support First Nations elders and those living with chronic conditions, matched by a $1 million contribution from the First Nations Health Authority to support Indigenous communities in health care preparedness.

“Cultural safety to me is having an awareness of how aboriginal populations view and see things differently, based on their own history. How we interact and provide care to aboriginal populations and individuals is something that we need to think about differently and do differently than has been the case in the past.

“I think that is a responsibility we have as Canadians, and our prime minister has said as much as well. To the credit of others who have come before me, Interior Health has set the stage where we can be a leader in creating a new kind of relationship.”

Related: Solving the drug overdose tragedy

Health care mandate

Cochrane says he has not been given a personal mandate by the health minister, but accountability is laid out through the policy priorities outlined by the new NDP government.

Those priorites, he says, include addressing the opioid crisis, mental illness impact on the health care system, improving remote and rural health services, improve health care relationships with Indigenous people and improve access and reduce wait times for surgical services.

“I think the health ministry provides good guidance with clearly defined strategies and goals, some of which have been in play for a long time. But in some cases these are social changes as much as medical care changes, and social changes need to occur at the level of people so they sometimes take time.”

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