North Island Hospital celebrates 5th anniversary

The North Island Hospital Campbell River and Comox Valley campuses are celebrating five years of providing acute care to residents living in the North Island.

Celebrations were held recently at both hospital campuses for staff, medical staff and volunteers who enjoyed selfie and decorating contests, prizes, popcorn, commemorative cookies and ice cream. Patients received a special treat with their meal. Formal ceremonies outside the hospitals’ front entrances included welcomes and blessings from local Indigenous Elders, praise from community and Island Health leaders, and the planting of cedar trees to commemorate the occasion.

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From left: Campbell River ER Physician Jeff Beselt; Executive Medical Director Dr. Dieter de Bruin; Campbell River City Councillor Colleen Evans; Regional Hospital District Chair Charlie Cornfield; Island Health Executive Director of General Support Services Michael Morrison; CRH Site Director Tricia Sinclair; North Island MLA Michele Babchuk; CRH Elder-in-Residence Sheryl Thomson; and Wei Wai Kum Elder Dani Assu.

“A tremendous amount of work went into making the state-of-the-art North Island Hospital a reality,” said Leah Hollins, Island Health Board Chair. “It took many years of planning, gathering of the best evidence-based designs and consultations with health providers, local leaders and community and Indigenous groups. Congratulations to both North Island Hospital campuses – and the amazing staff, medical staff and volunteers who work there who are the hearts and souls of their respective communities. Thank you all for an amazing first five years.”

The Campbell River campus officially opened on September 10, 2017 followed by the Comox Valley campus on October 1, 2017.

“It is important to commend and acknowledge that we are here today due to the commitment and passion of our leadership, staff, physicians, volunteers and community,” said Campbell River site director Tricia Sinclair. “I want to extend my deepest gratitude to all staff, physicians, volunteers, and community partners who make a difference in the lives of those who access health services.”

Emergency Room physician Dr. Jeff Beselt was the Medical Director for the North Island Hospital project and noted how fortunate we are to have been able to face the pandemic with two new hospital campuses on the North Island. 

“For half of the last five years, we have weathered a global pandemic. Two years ago, when things were really dark and bleak, as I would come into this building, I can tell you how much I appreciated working in a new building with touchless door openings, excellent ventilation, and the ability to keep this place clean. Having private spaces to see people made such a difference. But although it’s wonderful to have a new building, what really matters is the people who work inside this facility. They are pretty amazing and are what keeps me wanting to come to work.”

Over the last five years the North Island Hospital’s team of 3,000 staff and medical staff, volunteers, and facilities operators has brought more than 4,300 babies into the world; responded to more than 280,000 emergency department visits; provided more than 363,000 acute care patient days; and performed 116,000 Computed Tomography (CT) Scans, 38,000 Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests, and 54,000 surgeries.

“These new, modern Campbell River and Comox-based hospital campuses would not have been possible without the tireless commitment and hard work of staff and medical staff, volunteers and the support of the Ministry of Health, the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District and the hospital foundations and auxiliaries,” said James Hanson, Vice President of Clinical Operations for the North Island.

Michael Morrison, Island Health Executive Director for General Support Services, served as the North Island Hospital’s General Manager at the time the campuses opened.

“There was so much involvement and collaboration with the community, local leaders, funding partners, volunteers, Indigenous groups and staff who pulled towards a shared goal of health and wellness for these communities,” he said. “Over the last five years the communities have put their touches on these facilities. The ways they are being used and the addition of local artwork and artifacts have changed them, from buildings to being places of comfort and places of healing.”

An Aboriginal Working Group guided the North Island Hospital project team to design a dedicated space for Indigenous patients and families to gather, and for ceremony and spiritual practices. 

“This project would not have been possible without the knowledge, wisdom and guidance of our local First Nations Elders, Indigenous community leaders and members of our Aboriginal Working Group,” said Michelle McClain, Island Health’s Indigenous Health Manager. “The Aboriginal Working Group provided a forum for Indigenous voices to support the development of a culturally-safe design and operational vision that is representative of the North Island First Nations, Métis and other Indigenous Peoples. They also advocated and created space for the Elder-in-Residence program to support culturally safe sites at the Campbell River and Comox campuses.” 

Sheryl Thompson is the Elder-in-Residence in Campbell River. 

“I get to be with people who aren’t feeling well and make them feel at home,” she said. “I make connections, through culture or spirit, we have a good laugh, and I get to be with health care providers who care about people as much as I do.” Traditional Plant Gardens in Campbell River and Comox were designed for the hospital in partnership with local knowledge-keepers to raise awareness about the significance of Indigenous ways of healing, and the importance of preservation and protection of these plants utilized to support health and wellness. 

Barb Whyte, K’omoks First Nation, noted the importance of the planting of cedar trees as part of the 5th anniversary celebration. 

“The Cedar tree is considered the ‘tree of life’ for Aboriginal people,” she said. “Each part of the tree – roots, bark, wood and branches – are used to make an abundance of valuable resources which sustained Aboriginal people. Canoes, Bighouses, totem poles, and cooking utensils were made from steamed wood that was bent. Baskets, mats, clothing and cedar bark regalia were made from the inner bark of the cedar tree. The roots were also used for sewing together bent boxes that were used for cooking.” 

Max Jajszczok, Island Health’s North Island Executive Director, offered the perspective of someone coming to the region after the North Island Hospital Project was completed, describing himself as, ‘somebody who is standing in the shadow of giants.’

“I found an incredible welcoming culture within the hospitals, from our staff, our patients, our physicians, our volunteers,” he said. “The other piece that I found is a true passion for health care delivery and collaboration, and advocacy with our community leaders.”

“These hospitals only work if we have dedicated and professional people inside them,” said North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. “We have a wonderful group of caring professionals that deliver the services that we all need as a community.”

Ronna-Rae Leonard, MLA for the Comox Valley, recalled the remarkable one-day transfer of patients and staff from the former St. Joseph’s Hospital to the new campus, and the incredible amount of work that went into that process ahead of time to make it happen smoothly.

“Moving that institution to a new hospital took a lot of courage and fortitude,” she said. I want to acknowledge the people who were involved and embraced the change. Thank you to everyone who has brought us to where we are today.” 

Doug Hillian, Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District Vice-Chair, is passionate about the services he has received at both the Comox and Campbell River campuses over the last five years.

“This new hospital is a win for people seeking medical care in these communities,’ he said. “The care I received was first class, but it’s the people who make this place what it is, who go out of their way every day to provide exemplary care for those who need it, whatever their role, so that we can enjoy a good quality of life and excellent healthcare.” 

Comox Valley emergency physician and Medical Director, Sarah Scott is proud to be a part of the NIH team.

“I cannot thank you enough for being there when needed the most, through thick and thin, for maintaining the acute care frontlines, for being – as one local group recently said – the guardians of our communities,” she said. “They say that it’s the people inside the house that make it a home, and I am proud and humbled to work with such a dedicated, compassionate, brilliant, hard-working and often hilarious team. You make this house a home.”