Grants from the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation have helped put lifesaving equipment into the hands of healthcare professionals in the North.
On Wednesday, the foundation presented a cheque for $1.515 million to Northern Health to support equipment purchases, training and other initiatives. Funds raised by the foundation have been used to purchase equipment ranging from a $400,000 endoscopy ultrasound machine for diagnosing cancer patients to a pair of iPads to educate patients and their families about medical procedures and health conditions.
"Spirit of the North is overwhelmed with the generosity of our donors. They realize that health truly is our greatest wealth," foundation CEO Judy Neiser said. "I felt it was important for our donors to be a part of the money going out, as well as the money going in. It is going out to real things."
Surgeon Dr. Gilbert Wankling said the addition of an endoscopy ultrasound machine to the B.C. Cancer Agency Centre for the North has complimented the other diagnostic tools available to oncologists and surgeons.
The machine allows a surgeon to insert an ultrasound sensor into the patient's body to scan potential tumours from inside the body - allowing better access to areas that are difficult to scan externally, and allows higher resolution images, Wankling said.
"[And] if you have to do a biopsy in the CT scan, you have to go in through the outside," he said. "This is the scope we use for biopsies. You have put a needle through... and the patient doesn't feel it. We can do a sample, or even if we don't do a sample, we can get a good look at it."
The Spirit of the North foundation contributed almost $224,000 to the purchase of the $400,000 machine.
Other equipment purchased through the foundation for the cancer clinic has allowed procedures that previously had to be done in Vancouver can now be done in Prince George, Wankling added.
Another piece of equipment purchased by the foundation, a GeneXpert system, will speed up the diagnosis of antibiotic-resistant diseases from days to hours at the University Hospital of Northern B.C.
Microbiology change technologist Tracy Sapergia said swabs must be taken currently to diagnose a hospital patient. Those swabs then have to be plated and cultivated before being manually examined.
"The whole process can take up to three days," Sapergia said. "[And] most of the patients we are screening are negative."
While those patients are waiting for a diagnosis, hospital staff must wear gloves, gowns and masks while in contact with them, she said.
Once the GeneXpert is ready for use, it will automate the procedure of diagnosis and reduce the diagnosis time down to two hours, Sapergia said.
Speeding up the diagnosis will reduce the stress on patients, as well as save time and money for hospital staff by reducing the amount of time they are required to use full protective gear, she said.
Over at the maternity ward and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the foundation's impact has been felt in the form of six new fetal heart monitors. The foundation contributed more than $150,000 toward the purchase of the units, which have a combined cost of $291,000.
Leslie Murphy, manager of maternal child services, said the new monitors replace older, stationary monitors. The monitors are used to monitor the heart rate of a fetus during birth and delivery, and are connected to the birthing mother, she said.
"It's very nice to have that mobility, they were basically strapped to the bed before," Murphy said. "They can even have baths, because [the monitors are] water proof."
The maternity ward and NICU also received a new ultrasound machine - used for determining the fetus's position prior to birth - and a Giraffe OmniBed, an incubator and monitoring bed for high-risk newborns that converts to a conventional bassinet.
"It means babies don't have to be changed from bed to bed," Murphy said.
The new ultrasound is clearer and more compact than the broken-down ultrasound it replaced, she added.
But not all the purchases supported by the foundation are large pieces of equipment worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the family medicine unit and internal medicine unit, the foundation supported the purchase of an Accuvein Viewing System and two iPads used as patient teaching tools.
Kathy Innis, clinical nurse educator, said the Accuvein system is a hand-held device that uses infrared light to highlight the veins in a patient's arm.
Many of the patients in the two units are elderly and/or have small and damaged veins that makes getting an IV or taking a blood sample difficult, she said. Chemotherapy can also be damaging for patients' veins, making getting an IV inserted correctly the first time difficult.
"For our [patient] population, it reduces the amount of patient pokes and tries. That's what it's about -you get it the first time, each time," she said.
For people who are anxious about getting needles, using the device can help distract them from the process, Innis added.
The iPads have been excellent education tools, she added, allowing nurses to provide patients with accurate online information about their condition or the procedures they are scheduled to have, Innis said.
Previously all the departments had to educate patients was a collection of pamphlets and DVDs, which were shared among several departments, Innis said. Inevitably, the DVDs would end up lost or the DVD player would be unavailable when it was needed, she said.
Medical services manager Julie Dhaliwal said the iPads are a great way to help patients and their families get the information they need.
"When you're ill or when you're in a [health] situation, you may not be receiving all the info [people are telling you]," Dhaliwal said. "[The iPads] are not hurried, they can watch the material at their own pace."
One of the things the iPads are used for is to help prepare patients who are being transferred to Vancouver or elsewhere for procedures, Dhaliwal said. The process of being transferred by air to an unfamiliar hospital can be very disorienting, she said, and simple things like showing patients pictures of the plane they will be taking can help reduce their anxiety.
MAJOR CAMPAIGN NEARS COMPLETION
The Spirit of the North Foundation has been working to raise $1.4 million to purchase a SPECT CT scanner -the leading edge of medical imaging -for the University Hospital of Northern B.C., Neiser said.
"It's got a big price tag, but we're very close. We're so close, we've given the okay to order it," Neiser said. "This will be one of three [SPECT CT scanners] in B.C. It's quicker, more accurate and the quality [of imaging] is better."
Neiser said Northern Health identified the SPECT CT scanner as its biggest need to increase its focus for early and accurate diagnosis.
"There is the space available and the techs trained, so there would be no increase in costs for Northern Health," she said. "Medical equipment is like everything else, nobody owns a 20-year-old cell phone. Things have to be updated often."
For more information about the Spirit of the North Foundation, go online to www.spirtofthenorth.ca or call 250-565-2515.
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