Rural and Remote Division of Family Practice

Volume 5 - December 2016

Tis the season…

Holiday customs vary (as you’ll see in one of this issue’s articles), but for most of us, it’s a time to be grateful for what we have.  And we are truly grateful to be working with such dedicated and talented people. We hope the holidays—and the coming year—bring peace, good health, and much happiness.



Reflections on Christmas in rural BC

Rural Forum: Advancing a Rural Lens on Patient Medical Home

Blue River: Telehealth a road to more accessible health care 

Reader survey coming soon…



Rural Patient Transport Realist Review by Applied Policy Research Unit is now posted on our website. Take a look at the findings and recommendations (starting on page 57). Lots of work and discussions forthcoming.

Registration for 2017 Rural Locum Forum now open - ​We hope to see you there.

The Practice Toolkit developed by South Island Division of Family Practice is available for our rural BC communities. For more information contact Helen Truran, Project Manager at

UBC Chair for Rural Health a reality   Health Minister Terry Lake announced on November 15 a $5-million endowment for a new UBC Chair to advance research in rural health in BC. Dr. Dave Snadden, the first leader of UBC’s Northern Medical Program in Prince George, has been appointed the founding chair.  Congratulations to Dr. Snadden!

Permanent Social Worker good news for Gabriola   As of November 28, 2016, Angela Pounds became Gabriola’s permanent, part-time social program officer. Initially created by the Division through A GP for Me, the position has been increased from two days a week to three, thanks to Island Health. Well done Angela and the Gabriola community!

New Ashcroft doc a convert to rural lifestyle   After only eight months in Ashcroft, and fresh from eight years working in Kuwait, Dr. Amgad Zake is enthralled with his new rural setting. Dr. Zake says he and his wife and two kids love the outdoor activities in the area, as well as the quiet, laid back lifestyle. A warm welcome to Dr. Zake and his family.

Reflections on Christmas in rural BC

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


There’s no wrong way to celebrate the Yuletide season. But there’s something very special about the way BC’s rural and remote communities come together to mark this time of year. 


Maybe it’s the deep knowledge that to make it in the icy climate, the stunning, yet unforgiving geography, the remoteness, people need to rely on each other. Whatever the reason, Dickens would say of the two families featured here, that they certainly know how to keep Christmas well. 



John and Laura Soles have celebrated 27 Christmases in Clearwater, where they raised their three children. One of the annual highlights for them is when the whole community gathers to light a giant tree and sing Christmas carols. Another is the December Food Bank Christmas concert. “It’s a huge event,” says John, “featuring local musicians and a silent auction. Clearwater has one of the highest useage rates of the Food Bank so the community raises a lot of money for them.”

As a family, one of their favorite traditions is to head out into the woods and cut down their own Christmas tree. “We’ve had some wondrous trees,” says John, “and some Charlie Brown trees, where we’ve had to drill holes in the trunk and flesh it out with branches.” 


The Soles family with one of their “wondrous” trees. From L to R Caroline, Melinda, Andrew and John. 
Photo Credit: Laura Soles


Another favorite tradition: to give the kids a tree ornament every Christmas. “Each of our kids had their own ornament box,” says Laura, “and they’d add an ornament every year. When they moved out on their own, they each had a full box of ornaments to take with them.”

Compared to the Soles, Amber Bacenas is a relative newcomer to Bella Coola, but after only 3 1/2 years there, she, her husband Blair Lemieux, four dogs and four cats already feel part of the community. And the Xmas season is no exception. “The community spirit really shows here,” says Amber. “People really do care.”  

Amber Bacenas, Bella Coola’s new physician lead, with husband Blair Lemieux, and Beau and Little Dog, 
two of their four dogs.

She recalls one Christmas when an anonymous donor put a Christmas turkey and other gifts on the doorstep of a family who was facing financial difficulties. “The father of that family wrote this absolutely heartfelt letter, which ran in the local paper.”

There’s no shortage of things to do either, says Amber. There’s the annual Rudolf Rock Dance, the RCMP-hosted Meet Santa event, the hospital Xmas event, and the Nimpo Lake New Year’s Eve party. “That party has everything,” Amber says, “ice sculptures on the lake, a community barbecue, bonfires everywhere and ice hockey for the kids. It’s fantastic.”

Skating anyone? Amber Bacenas and husband Blair Lemieux on their very own backyard ice rink. 

As for family traditions, Amber’s favorite hails from her Lithuanian roots on her dad’s side. “On Christmas Eve, we sit around the table and eat kuchos—pickled herring on rye bread—and toast the season with ice cold vodka.” 

Now, that’s keeping Christmas well!

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Rural Forum: Advancing a Rural Lens on Patient Medical Home


“When doctors experience the value of working in a team, the benefit to the patient becomes very obvious.”

“Rural practice is already networked by its nature.”

“You know we are talking about a small community if losing even one doctor causes a big problem.” 

Sixty rural physicians, rural Divisions staff and other partners from across BC attended this year’s Rural Division Forum in November. 


Stories of rural medicine are what resonate with people and the 60 physicians, staff and other partners from across BC who came to the November 3 & 4 rural forum had a lot of great stories to share. Like being locked out of the community hospital on a dark and stormy night with a critically ill patient inside because your electronic key fob wasn’t working…fortunately the story had a good ending!

Rural doctors brought and shared stories like this and many others that painted a unique picture of rural medicine. They also brought a strong shared passion: to explore ways to integrate a more comprehensive rural system of care, including patient medical home/primary care home (PMH/PCH), patient transport, and rural surgical and maternity services.

The main objective of the forum was to provide a voice on how rural communities across BC are advancing and innovating around the key concepts and principles that are the focus of PMH/PCH models.  The forum was an important opportunity to provide a rural perspective to the General Practice Service Committee summit to help shape the future agenda as the Ministry of Health and Health Authorities move forward in designing and developing new models of care.

It was a lively event, focused on fostering a shared understanding of the rural context, while recognizing that ”once you’ve seen one rural community, you’ve seen one rural community”, a testament to how each community has its own unique challenges, characteristics and rewards.

And a driving theme throughout the entire forum was a clear recognition of the opportunity to influence positive change and a commitment to providing rural communities with the best health care possible.

The morning panel on the patient medical home included four communities/divisions who shared their work and experience, including Dr. David Butcher, Salt Spring Island; Aarin Frigon, Princeton; Dr. David Merry, Kootenay/Boundary Division; and Dr. Dave Whittaker, from Port McNeil. 

There was a richness of insights expressed throughout the two-day event, which included a small-communities engagement session. There was also broad support for certain must-haves:

  • Developing “intentional relationships” with community;
    Access to accurate, meaningful data;
  • Building community-based capacity;
  • Engaging with health authorities and other partners; and,
  • Developing locally designed solutions.

From L to R, Clearwater’s physician lead John Soles, Rural & Remote Division 
Executive Director Kathy Copeman-Stewart, and rural physician from 
Kootenay/Boundary Division David Merry participate in a small communities 
discussion group on the day prior to the Forum.

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Blue River: Telehealth a road to more accessible health care 

It's winter in the tiny community of Blue River, an hour and fifteen minutes from Clearwater. And its 260 or so residents have battened down the hatches and are staying put. 

And rightly so. 
They know all too well just how treacherous the steeply winding stretch of road from Blue River to Clearwater can get when the temperatures plummet and the snow swirls.  

Unfortunately, staying safely off the roads means Blue River patients often go without access to primary care in the winter months. 

Until recently, that is. Arising out of A GP For Me survey that showed a need for more accessible health care in Blue River, particularly for patients with chronic issues, a telehealth initiative was launched on November 7.  It connects patients at the Blue River Health Centre, a nursing outpost, with doctors at the hospital in Clearwater via video conferencing.

Clearwater rural doctor John Soles testing the telehealth services
that will connect him to patients at the Blue River Health Centre.

“It has to be structured so that doing something virtually doesn’t take me twice as long.” - John Soles

Clearwater's rural doctor John Soles saw several patients via the new system in early November, and says it worked well all around. He's quick to say that to be effective, telehealth has to be based on solid relationships between physicians and patients. "I know my patient's medical issues, what medications they're on and their history," he says. 

Success is also based on having a nurse onsite at the clinic, and the technology has to be user friendly, Soles adds. "It has to be structured so that doing something virtually doesn't take me twice as long." 

So what next? "This is a test concept," says Soles. "The long-term goal is to be connected to patients in Blue River right from my office. That would give patients, and me, a lot more flexibility."

Back to headlines >

The Rural and Remote Division has identified telehealth as an important part of enhancing health services to rural and remote communities. The goal is to make telehealth an integral part of longitudinal care. The Telehealth Working Group is a critical part of that process, ensuring telehealth services are implemented according to local service delivery models. Members of the working group at a recent meeting in November. From L to R, upper row: Jel Coward, Open Chapter; Paula Ryan, Salt Spring Island; Pam Kryskow, Open Chapter. From L to R, lower row: David Whittaker, North Vancouver Island; Nancy Humber, Lillooet.

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Reader survey coming soon…

The New Year is always a good time to take stock and in early 2017 we will be asking for your feedback on the e-newsletter through a short, online reader survey. Our goal is to find out how we can make the newsletter work better for our members—and we can’t do that without your input. Look for the survey on our website soon. 

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