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.
Other capital projects underway include Penticton Regional Hospital, where three shortlisted teams have submitted proposals for a new patient care tower. We expect to announce a preferred proponent in early 2016, with construction to start later that year and completion expected in 2019.
In Vernon, the top two floors of the Polson Tower, including 14 new inpatient beds, are nearing completion, while plans are also moving forward for the addition of 85 residential care beds in Vernon by mid-2017.
Kelowna is also receiving 100 new residential care beds in early 2017.
In Princeton, a partnership with Shared Care and the local Division of Family Practice has seen access to specialists almost double over a one-year period and now spans 11 specialty areas. These specialist visits along with telemedicine support have greatly enhanced patient care.
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.
Kelowna’s Adolescent Psychiatry Unit also marked a significant milestone, celebrating 10 years of specialized care for young people across the region with significant mental health issues.
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 in the Okanagan including Keremeos, Oliver, Penticton, Princeton, and Vernon. 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.