The Faces of Health Care in Wood Buffalo
After the May 2016 wildfire, it is obvious that the role of health care providers cannot be overstated as the backbone for community well-being. From the successful evacuation of 105 patients from the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, to setting up a field hospital at Suncor’s Firebag site, to working day and night restoring the Health Centre to full functionality – their unwavering commitment to providing health care services was vital to ensuring our safe evacuation and re-entry into our community.
In the months following the wildfires, health care continues to play a vital role in the recovery of our community. From the strategic leader of the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre to a front line nurse in Public Health, this feature provides an intimate look at several individuals involved in local health care delivery who are playing a crucial role in our community’s health and wellness moving forward.
Cindy is the Executive Director of the Northern Lights Health Foundation, where Amerongen and her team fundraise for vital medical equipment, programs and services in the community.
With experience leading organizations in the areas of education, fundraising, corporate investment and community development, Amerongen says moving into the role of Executive Director at the Health Foundation was a natural progression in her career.
“My role is to lead the Health Foundation’s charitable and fundraising activities, and to invite donors in to express their gratitude as they support the growth and development of health services in our region.”
She says working with the Health Foundation allows her to connect people with opportunities to have a direct and positive impact on health care in our region. One of the most meaningful examples to her was her first opportunity to meet the family of Jeremy Snook.
“I had the opportunity to meet his parents the day of the draw for the 2nd Annual Jeremy Snook Memorial Raffle and had the opportunity to see the work they’ve been doing to enable the Health Foundation to raise funds in support of palliative care and the passion they bring to in memory of their child. It was such a touching day,” she says. “I was probably here a month and I thought, wow, this is what it’s all about. The ability to connect the donors to something that is meaningful to them, and enable superb health care here.”
According to Amerongen, the past few years have brought on extraordinary accomplishments at the Health Foundation, including the launch of the $16 million Gratitude Campaign, which covers eight projects that will have a substantial impact on local health care.
“It was a really well thought out, long process that the Campaign team went through to really define what it was going to be and how it was going to be meaningful across the programs AHS offers; I think they’ve done and extraordinary job with it and I’m really proud to bring it forward to potential donors,” she says. “From enhancing end of life care for patients and families through the Palliative Care Project; to enhancing recruitment of new physicians and reducing surgical recovery time through the Minimally Invasive Surgical Suites Project; to building healthier environments for our children through the Healthy Schools and Early Investments Project – it’s about making our community stronger and more resilient moving forward.”
Photo: Cindy Amerongen is the Executive Director of the Northern Lights Health Foundation, where she leads the organization’s charitable and fundraising activities.
A registered nurse by trade, Lambert has worked in a wide variety of health care roles including as an acute care nurse in Medicine; a forensic nurse with Correctional Service of Canada; and as a nurse in charge with Health Canada. Since moving to Fort McMurray over six years ago, Lambert’s experience has predominantly been in public health.
“I started off in Fort McMurray as the Area Manager for Public Health and worked in that role for four years, then moved into the Director role for population, public and indigenous health with AHS for the entire North Zone, which encompasses all of Alberta, north of Edmonton.”
Most recently, Lambert has had the opportunity to move into the Director of Patient Care role at the Health Centre, an opportunity she is excited to take on.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to grow and diversify my skills, and add value to a new area in the Director of Patient Care role,” she says.
Lambert says she looks forward to providing a new perspective to the role and applying her leadership skills to strengthen to the clinical teams within the Health Centre.
“I look forward to bringing my own leadership vision into that role, which is to be an authentic, determined leader that honours contributions and differences of others. All while balancing and promoting quality patient care, strengthening the teams within the Health Centre.”
According to Lambert, her career with AHS has been a rewarding one, including many meaningful and memorable moments.
“One of my most meaningful moments was definitely coming back to the community after the wildfire, and re-establishing and enhancing community health services – that was one of the most impactful moments in my career,” she says. “And further to that, it was an incredible experience to work in such a diverse, amazing team and see the strength of AHS employees to really pull together and do some amazing work in a very short period of time.”
During her time with Public Health, Lambert has played a direct role in bringing many new Health-Foundation funded initiatives to the community, including: the Inner-City Homeless Health Initiative, the Baby-Friendly Initiative and an Aboriginal Health Liaison position.
In addition to her professional advocacy of the Health Foundation, Lambert and her family also dedicate much of their personal time to volunteer at the Health Foundation’s signature events such as Festival of Trees.
“I encourage my family to give their time to the Health Foundation because I believe deeply in the importance of teaching our youth to give back to the community,” she says. “I believe that the Health Foundation gives us the opportunity to push further beyond our best practice standards. I also believe the Health Foundation can really support AHS in pushing the envelope and in providing quality care that goes above and beyond.”
Photo: Jordanna Lambert is the Director of Patient Care at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre where she provides leadership and strategic guidance to the managers of Medicine, OR, Ambulatory Care, the Emergency Department and Pediatrics/Surgery.
Dallas Kuhr is the Manager of Ambulatory Care for the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, where she oversees all ambulatory care including the community cancer clinic, orthopedic clinic, multi-purpose clinic, minor surgery and endoscopy clinics and the respiratory department.
With over 33 years’ experience in critical care nursing, Kuhr made the move to the Ambulatory Care Department in 2015 – a move she recognizes as both challenging and rewarding.
“It has been a very interesting and challenging role with a great group of staff to work with,” she says.
Originally from Manitoba, Kuhr has been in Alberta for most of her nursing career, having spent 28 of those years in Fort McMurray and six years in Edmonton.
For Kuhr, her move from critical care to ambulatory care has brought on a number of opportunities including new patient-focused initiatives.
“We’re working on a new initiative called Path to Care, and its purpose is to streamline the referral process so we’re more effectively meeting the needs of patients,” she says. “We’ve also worked closely on streamlining the booking process for the benefit of both patients and staff.”
In addition to new initiatives, Kuhr also notes that her team did exceptionally well with their accreditation this year, a process that ensures care delivery is at a high standard and meets best practice.
“I’m proud to say that we did very well in our accreditation, and in particular, the accreditation of our community cancer clinic. That was a huge accomplishment,” she says.
Another project Kuhr says she is looking forward to is the Multi-Purpose Clinic Project, one of eight projects encompassed in the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign. The project includes renovations to the existing clinic, which will greatly improve the patient experience, reduce patient traffic and wait times in the Emergency Department, and increase capacity for specialist appointments and other ambulatory care procedures.
The project is fully funded through two gifts totaling $500,000 from David Bouchier and Nicole Bourque-Bouchier, and their company Bouchier; with construction taking place in a near future.
“This renovation will definitely help the space function better, improve the layout of it as far as the rooms are concerned and increasing the size of the waiting room,” says Kuhr. “When you come into a more welcoming and comfortable waiting room, it impacts your first impressions especially when we have a lot of kids coming here.”
According to Kuhr, support from donors such as the Bouchiers’ is vital to providing quality care, and she is thankful for the support.
“Thank you so much for your funding. It means a great deal and helps us achieve some of our goals to make the stay for patients or trips to the hospital more pleasant. It’s greatly appreciated.”
Photo: Dallas Kuhr (second left in the photo right) is the Manager of Ambulatory Care for the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, where she oversees all ambulatory care services.
A nurse for 20 years, Braun’s experience spans across public health, primary care and acute care, mainly in Manitoba and in Alberta, where she has resided for the past two years.
“We provide child immunization services, adult immunizations and during flu season, we also offer the flu vaccine and school immunization in outlying communities as well,” she says. “We also have another nurse who specializes in sexually transmitted diseases come out with us every other week to provide those services as well.”
For Braun, one of the most meaningful parts of her current role is being accessible to residents outside of Fort McMurray and providing public health services to individuals that may not otherwise go to the public health office.
“We’re able to put ourselves out there, and make ourselves more accessible – not just to the outlying communities but also to the patrons at the Centre of Hope, and providing the services they need.”
According to Braun, the Health Foundation has played a significant role in public health’s ability to provide services to these individuals.
In 2011, the Health Foundation funded the creation of a health clinic at the Centre of Hope through the support of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project joint venture owners, Shell Canada, Chevron Canada Limited and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation. Braun and her team use this clinic to provide public health services to patrons at the Centre of Hope.
Braun also notes that the Health Foundation’s support has also been critical in providing vehicles for service delivery in the outlying communities.
In addition to this support, the Health Foundation has committed funds to provide extensive renovations to the existing community health clinics in Anzac and Conklin, through the support of Nexen CNOOC Ltd. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL). The project is one of eight projects included in the Health Foundation’s Gratitude Campaign.
According to Braun, the project will significantly benefit the residents of communities she serves.
“The impact is improved access, decreasing preventable diseases, and building stronger partnerships and relationships with our clients and the other staff at the places we provide services,” she says.
Braun concludes by recognizing the Health Foundation’s donors and the impact their support has on the clients she serves.
“Thank you. I’m not sure that they’re aware just how much benefit they have given to the community through their contributions. It goes a long way and is very helpful in providing our services to both the local community and outlying areas.”
Photo: Gail Braun is a registered nurse with Public Health Services in Fort McMurray, where she currently delivers public health services in Janvier, Conklin and at the Centre of Hope and provides school based immunizations in Janvier.
Originally from Australia, Wilkinson’s journey to becoming a leader in seniors’ health began in an unusual place -- as a nurse in acute cardiac care.
“My career began working in a cardiac angiography lab where patients received specialized tests to help diagnose and treat heart conditions,” she says. “Approximately seven years into my nursing career, one of the cardiologists I worked with asked me if I wanted to train as an echo cardiographer providing echo cardiograms to patients, a procedure used to diagnose and monitor heart disease.”
After that, she moved to a rural part of Australia and became the chief cardiac scientist for that area.
“In this role, I oversaw 19 cardiac scientists specializing in a number of cardiac-focused diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments – essentially all interventional and diagnostic cardiology,” she says.
She then had the opportunity to come to Canada, where she taught at Bow Valley College; worked as a manager in a medical/physiotherapy clinic; then as a provincial lead for the AHS aCATS project (adult Coding Access Targets for Surgery), before moving into the position of Area Manager – Seniors Health in Fort McMurray.
“My background is quite dynamic and I do feel that I bring a different piece to it. I manage the staff, while always putting compassion and care as our main goals,” she says. “Every role I was in was really about caring for people – whether they were acutely ill or they had a chronic disease, and it all has fit really well and it feels like I have been in this field forever.”
According to Wilkinson, her role leading seniors’ health services in Fort McMurray is very dynamic.
“Coming from acute care, a few people think that seniors health is sort of the easier part of health care. However, after being on both sides of the spectrum, I must say that I truly disagree. It’s a very complex role. We’re looking after people in their senior years and there are lots of a challenges, lots of concerns – and not things we can fix quickly,” she says. “Every day is really about seeing how we can make it better for them, improving quality of life and quality of care, and making sure people feel at home rather than institutionalized.”
For Wilkinson, her role has had many meaningful moments; however, one recent memory stands out in her mind.
“One of the most meaningful moments would be that we were a pilot site for the appropriate use of antipsychotics. Dementia clients have been given antipsychotics for many years believing that was best course, but latest research is beginning to show otherwise. The goal of this project was to have anybody that did not have a mental health diagnosis slowly weaned off their antipsychotics,” she says.
“I think why that became one of our biggest moments was that we had a lady that used to simply used to rock in her chair, all day. She had very little interaction or response to any stimuli around her. And just after that person came off antipsychotics, she actually became very active and began interacting with her environment,” she continues. “And to us, that was one of our greatest successes because this lady’s awareness and quality of life is so much greater now, and to us, that was a moment to be rejoiced. It was phenomenal.”
Wilkinson says providing quality of life for the residents of Continuing Care is her and her team’s top priority and the Health Foundation has supported greatly through donor-funded programs such as Empathy for the Aging and Adopt-a-Grandparent, funded through ConocoPhillips.
Through the support of CNRL, the Health Foundation is also funding a refurbishment to the Continuing Care area through the Gratitude Campaign, which has led to the replacement of flooring; and will include new painting, curtains, bed linens and furniture. According to Wilkinson, this project is vital to providing a homelike environment for the residents of Continuing Care.
“The aesthetics of a place give a feeling, and you can’t rule out the feelings. You can have the best care, but if it’s in a clinical environment, it’s always going to be clinical care. This is not what we do in seniors’ health – we give home caring, so we need the aesthetics to help. And health can’t always afford to provide that, so that’s when we rely on the Health Foundation and we rely on those generous donors,” she says. “If we can create that home-like feeling for our residents, I think we’ve spent this [CNRL’s] generous donation to the best of our ability.”
According to Wilkinson, supporting health care in Wood Buffalo is critical to providing quality care for all residents – right here at home.
“Health care is like breathing, you’re going to need it. It’s not a question of if – it’s a question of when. It’s critical.”
She continues by extending a thank you to the Health Foundation’s donors who have demonstrated their support of local health care, and specifically seniors’ health.
“A very heartfelt thank you from all of us. It’s not just from me. There are 30 people up here that are going to feel the impact of what you’ve done and maybe another 200 to come after them. It’s not going to be a fleeting thank you; it’s a long lasting thank you.”
Photo: Denise Wilkinson is the Area Manager - Seniors Health in Fort McMurray where she provides leadership for continuing care and home care services provided by Alberta Health Services in Fort McMurray.
The Gratitude Campaign - It Starts With You
The $16 million Gratitude Campaign is the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the Northern Lights Health Foundation’s history and is comprised of eight projects, which will fundamentally change the face of health care in Wood Buffalo.
Donate. Volunteer. Get Involved.
Northern Lights Health Foundation
7 Hospital St., Fort McMurray, AB T9H 1P2