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Health funding announced for the Cariboo

Cariboo area patients with chronic disease and those with mental illness and substance use issues will benefit from new funding.

Cariboo area patients with chronic disease and those with mental illness and substance use issues will benefit from new or expanded programming announced by the provincial government Mar. 1.

These programs are community-based and intended to help improve patients’ quality of life and help keep people out of the hospital.

“Providing support at a community level will help us meet the increasing health care demands in areas of mental health and chronic disease,” said Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett.

The initiatives announced are part of an investment of up to $50 million in projects throughout B.C. which will strengthen primary and community care across the province.

The areas targeted in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is a chronic condition that obstructs air flow in a patient’s lungs; in Williams Lake investments will also target mental health and substance use.

“The projects outlined are all great examples of integration in health care at work,” said Norman Embree, Interior Health Board Chair.

“These are targeted approaches to very specific populations, and we are excited to be working with local physicians and our staff in these key areas.”

Williams Lake and 100 Mile House are among several communities within Interior Health to receive funding. Communities were selected based on a number of factors, including the prevalence of related conditions and the demand for additional community-based supports.

Interior Health will direct $2.2 million to a program called BreatheWell. In Williams Lake, IH has hired a respiratory therapist to work with COPD patients in the community, to manage symptoms and help avoid unnecessary hospital visits. There will also be a role for expanded rehabilitation efforts and education.

COPD is one of the leading causes of death in Canada and rates continue to increase. Statistics show within IH the percentage of patients with COPD has climbed from 5.4 per cent in 2001 to 7.8 per cent in 2010. The unpredictable and serious nature of “flare-ups,” when symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and mucous become acute, means many COPD patients often must use hospital emergency departments.

“Proactive management of this population by community-based multi-disciplinary teams including respiratory therapists, physiotherapists, general practitioners and specialists, will result in fewer and shorter hospital admissions,” says Darlene Arsenault, Program Director, Primary Health Care, Chronic Disease Management, Interior Health. “Most importantly, by working together these teams will help improve the COPD patient’s quality of life.”

In addition approximately $2.7 million will be directed across nine communities to expand community mental health services.

In Williams Lake, 1.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) new staffing positions will be added including social and life skills workers. By focusing on community resources, the program is expected to reduce the use of more expensive but less effective points of care such as the hospital Emergency Department.

“The program helps those with severe mental illness access care from a general practitioner,” explained Cliff Cross, Program Director, Mental Health and  Substance Use, Interior Health. “A large proportion of this population doesn’t  have a family doctor. At the same time, many have pressing health care issues that can exacerbate their illness and seriously impact quality of life.”

The initiatives are being rolled out over three years in 100 Mile and Williams Lake as well as other select communities throughout Interior Health.