Today is International Women’s Day, and as I consider the seismic shifts that have occurred of late in the realms of business, the arts, and politics I am buoyed by the belief that women’s voices are finally being heard, inequity is being called out, and that change is coming. Once untouchable icons are falling, industries are being reshaped, and a new era has begun – except in my universe: the health sector.
I’ve experienced first-hand, the feelings of not being believed by a physician, of feeling disrespected and being infantilized. In each instance, I found myself deliberating; is it just me? However, amidst this emerging conversation that #metoo and #timesup have inspired, a fascinating separate dialogue is gaining prominence as more and more women share their stories of discrimination, inequitable treatment, and frustration at not being able to receive timely, appropriate and respectful access to health care. What had begun as self-wondering organically spilled over into conversations with my friends and colleagues as media worldwide gradually started to report on stories similar to my own experiences – and judging by the overwhelming response, these issues resonate on a scale that was once hard for me to believe.
Whether it’s the patient whose unimaginably miserable hyperemesis gravidarum symptoms are diminished as general morning sickness. Or the one-in-ten women suffering from painful endometriosis made to endure wait times ranging from 7-10 years to receive a diagnosis. Or the countless number of women worldwide who are dismissed as hysterical when seeking help for their severe, chronic pain symptoms – that it is all, “in your head" and who are more likely to have their doctor refer them to a therapist rather than a pain clinic.
The examples are innumerable, and once you’ve become awakened to the phenomenon, you start to notice how pervasive it is. To understand part of what got us here, one only needs to appreciate that just thirty years ago; women weren't included in most healthcare and research studies. Or that even though women and men are physiologically different, many prescription drug therapies and treatments still in use today were disproportionally studied on men. But historical inequities aside, what is especially problematic is that there is currently no corresponding funding body for women’s health research. Combine that fact with the grossly disproportionate level of investment in women's health research funding versus men, and it is pretty easy to see how women have been systemically set up to receive the short end of the stick.
We know that when women are healthy, all society benefits. That there is undisputed evidence that healthy women mean healthy communities, not just in regard to overall wellness, but socially and economically too. On this International Women’s Day, while I’m pleased to see fractures in the current status quo emerging, I recognize there is a significant distance to go in the pursuit of respect, equity and access in women’s health.
We need to be reactive to women’s health needs as identified by patients, supported by research, and put into action by health care practitioners and government. This ongoing awakening as to the gender disparities within health will only change if brought to light. Ask more questions. Share what you learn. Educate your allies and demand more. It needn’t be an exercise in physician-shaming, male-bashing or levying historical judgment; rather it is the recognition of unconscious biases and how this moment in time, which is growing into a movement; has room for everyone to participate within it because the benefits unequivocally serve us all.
For all the women in your life, be they partners, mothers, sisters, cousins, friends or daughters; the door has finally been cracked open, and by being ruthless about communicating the facts on women’s health, regardless of the barriers, together, we can kick it wide open.
This is how movements get started, and it’s time to ensure women have access to the highest quality healthcare when, where, and how they need it.
The anticipation, the excitement, the unknown and the unrelenting desperation to deliver a healthy baby are shared by every woman in pregnancy. Respect and the opportunity to participate in one’s own decisions in childbirth are likely assumed as
automatic. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), that is not necessarily so.
In 2017, the organization published standards for quality of maternal and newborn care that included prioritizing respect and patient-led decision-making. A prior WHO review across 34 countries outlined numerous instances of human-rights abuses in childbirth—including physical, sexual and verbal abuse, as well as the loss of autonomy and lack of supportive care. The report concluded there was no consensus on how to measure disrespect in maternity care. However the work of Dr. Saraswathi Vedam, principal of the University of B.C.’s Birth Place Lab and associate professor of midwifery at BC Women’s, is changing that.
“All the major health organizations realized they didn’t reach the millennium development goals for mothers and babies,” explains Vedam from her BC Women’s Hospital research office. “They thought the answer was to institutionalize birth and incentivize people to come to the hospital, but they didn’t increase the amount of resources in the hospital. Many women who come to the hospital from the village in India, sub-Saharan Africa or the Philippines, for example, face overcrowded, understaffed units, a lack of privacy and frustrated providers. We know that their experience of mistreatment leads them to delay coming in or seeking help when needed, which is clearly not safer.”
Throughout her 30-year career as a midwife and researcher, Vedam has focused on respect and autonomy in childbirth. Her unyielding commitment to being a leader in patient-centred care resonates deeply at BC Women’s, which is proud to be the first hospital in B.C. to have credentialed midwife attendants at birth. In that pioneering tradition, Vedam is also breaking new ground in addressing the challenges outlined by the WHO through creating the first quality measures to assess provider-patient relationships and maternal access to person-centred maternity care.
Funding from partners at the Vancouver Foundation, BC Womens Hospital and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research enabled Changing Childbirth in BC, a community-led research project, and led to the development of the MADM (Mother’s Autonomy in Decision Making) scale and MORi (Mothers on Respect index). These tools recently received an Innovation award from the National Quality Forum. With new tools in place to quantify a patient’s experience, this data could now be used to measure current practices and inform new ones.
More than 4,000 women across B.C. were surveyed about their childbirth experiences and reported variations in respect and autonomy during pregnancy depending on their health status and preferences for care, as well as where and how they gave birth. Overseen by Vedam, the project is run through a steering group of women from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Despite the diversity of the participants, Vedam says they all raised similar concerns.
“Ninety-five percent of women said it was ‘very important’ or ‘important’ that they lead decisions about their care,” Vedam notes. “But very few said they were able to.” Women who were dissatisfied with their role in decision-making had very low MADM scores, indicating a lack of autonomy. Vedam’s research also found women with higher medical or social risks during pregnancy were four times as likely to have low MORi scores, indicating they felt less respected by their care providers. Recent immigrants and refugees, or women with a history of substance use, incarceration, poverty and/or homelessness were twice as likely to have low MORi scores. Women with midwifery care reported higher MADM and MORi scores compared to women with just physician care.
“We found that overall in B.C., women felt a good level of respect, but there were big differences in how much autonomy they felt,” explains Vedam. “Both respect and autonomy were linked to how much pressure they felt to accept a certain intervention.”
Vedam’s hope is that MADM and MORi will inform efforts to deliver the highest levels of maternal care. “We have very good outcomes for people here, unlike in the global south,” she points out. “Where we haven’t improved is in the experience of care, and that’s where this kind of work that is patient-directed and informed will help…. The whole world is talking about respectful maternity care and respectful standards. Now is our chance to make it better.”
Written by Jessica Werb
Photography by Claudette Carracedo
- Women's Magazine
For many women, reproductive care is just another part of standard health care, including regular Pap smears. For others, accessing that kind of care is far more challenging. Women living in conditions of social marginalization, as well as women living in rural and remote communities across Canada and beyond, can face multiple barriers when it comes to reproductive care.
For Dr. Sheona Mitchell-Foster, a practising obstetrician/gynecologist based in Prince George and researcher with the Women’s Health Research Institute at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, the stark health discrepancies among Canadian women are as shocking as they are intolerable. In fact, the academic clinician at the University of B.C.’s Northern Medical Program says it was “righteous indignation” that motivated her to focus her work on underserved populations in the first place.
“It’s completely unacceptable that we’re still seeing such incredible disparities in different populations across Canada,” Mitchell-Foster says. “There are still such differences in maternal and neonatal outcomes, specifically around HIV and cervical cancer. All women should have access to high-quality, culturally safe care regardless of where they live.”
Recognizing Canada's colonial history, culturally safe care allows for health-care professionals to minimize barriers that Indigenous women face. The intergenerational trauma it caused affects the way many women relate to health care today.
“I don’t think enough clinical care providers are aware that our health-care system is ultimately a colonial system,” she says. “Women across generations hesitate to engage with care because of that. If your aunt or mother was sterilized without her consent, would you engage with the health-care system? It makes it incredibly difficult to engage in anything around reproductive care.”
Mitchell-Foster’s research relates to women with substance use in pregnancy and pregnant women living with HIV. She is also pursuing relational ways to dismantle barriers to reproductive screening, specifically cervical cancer screening, by testing for HPV (human papillomavirus).
A mother of three, Mitchell-Foster has long been involved in the ASPIRE program, which offers HPV self-collection to women in low- and middle-income countries. Self-collection entails distributing user-friendly kits with swabs for testing for HPV as well as other sexually transmitted infections, without the need for a pelvic examination. This is coupled with already-existing community women’s groups and empowerment strategies.
She has brought this model to northern B.C., with a pilot project now under way in partnership with Carrier Sekani Family Services and Métis Nation B.C. The hope is that this approach will fit well with women’s needs and experiences in northern B.C., markedly improving participation in screening programs, and will ultimately be implemented throughout the north.
“Consider the multiple barriers that a woman may have in engaging with our health-care system. Now there’s an opportunity to self-collect, to do it confidentially and avoid a particularly invasive medical exam that may be associated with embarrassment, fear or judgment,” Mitchell-Foster says.“It allows women to take control of their own health in a way that was not previously possible.”
Written by Gail Johnson
Photography by Kelly Bergman
- Women's Magazine
1. In some cases, Angiograms are unable to detect early signs of female heart failure because testing techniques were designed for male subjects.
2. Younger women are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease as their male counterparts. Mortality rates for heart diseases are improving for every demographic group, except young women.
3. Each year in Canada heart disease kills more women than men. It is the leading cause of death for women over 55, and the second most common cause of death for women under 55.
4. Until the 1990s, women were not included in most medical research studies.
5. Women are more likely to report severe and long-lasting pain, but are typically not treated as aggressively as men.
6. Women metabolize drugs differently than men.
7. 270,000 women worldwide die from cervical cancer annually. Without immediate action, by 2030 the number is projected to rise to 500,000. Sadly, cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable.
8. Younger women are more likely than men to dismiss health symptoms as “false alarms” not requiring medical attention.
9. Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue from the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Currently there is no cure.
10. Endometriosis affects approximately 176 million women worldwide during their reproductive years (1 in every 10 women).
- Women's Magazine
In 2016 Dr. Lori Brotto, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of B.C., was named executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute (WHRI), a leading academic and research centre embedded within BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre with the goal of enabling women’s health research across the spectrum. Here Brotto talks about her work and her vision.
Q: Why is the funding of women’s health research so important?
A: When women are healthy, all of society benefits…. When we study societies where women are not healthy, it is immediately evident that many different aspects of those societies suffer. Without research, excellent health care is simply not possible, and research absolutely depends on funding.
Q: What are some of the new and interesting research projects on the go at WHRI?
A: One of our star WHRI members is a world leader in the vaccine for HPV (human papillomavirus). Her collaborative and international research has the long-term aim of eventually eradicating cervical cancer (because the vaccine prevents many of the strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer). In another [initiative], we are working to develop a smartphone app designed to be culturally safe for Indigenous and immigrant women struggling with postpartum depression…. There’s so much quality work being done by our close to 200 members across B.C., but that’s just a quick snapshot.
Q: What are some of the challenges unique to studying women’s health?
A: One of the challenges is that there is no dedicated funding body for women’s health research. For example, there is the Arthritis Foundation and the Kidney Foundation, but there is no corresponding funding body for research on women’s health topics. As a result, you end up having researchers do this work totally or mostly unfunded, which means it gets done off the side of their desk, or they scrape together some volunteers, or it simply doesn’t happen.
Q: What can be done to break down barriers that prevent women from achieving their best possible health?
A: This is going to sound so clichéd but it’s so true. It’s awareness. And that’s part of the reason why I very readily accept invitations to speak with the media, because it’s only through increasing awareness and providing education to the general public—not just women, but everyone—that we will make progress. Knowledge-raising and awareness-raising campaigns are absolutely key.
Q: You have an extensive background in sex research. What role does sexual health play in the totality of a woman’s well-being?
A: Sexuality is a core part of quality of life. It’s not just this small, circumscribed, leisurely activity that some people do some of the time. Everyone, even people who are not sexually active for any number of reasons, still have a sense of their sexuality and how important that is to them. It’s a core part of people’s identity. It shapes self-esteem. It’s associated with depression, anxiety, relationship discord, infidelity—it’s all related to sexuality.
Q: The theme for this issue is ‘Women’s health warriors.’ In your opinion, what makes a warrior for women’s health?
A: Someone who is absolutely ruthless in communicating the facts about women’s health to broad audiences, despite all the barriers that might get in the way, like political barriers, systemic barriers or personal barriers. The warrior is someone who still champions the scientific voice, regardless of any potential backlash and says, “Actually, no, these are the facts.”
Written by Joseph Dubé.
Photography by Sherri Koop.
- Women's Health Research
Genesa Greening believes in a collaborative work environment. She values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives. “I describe my leadership style as transparent, communicative and engaging.”
Before becoming CEO at the BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation in October 2016, Greening served as executive director of First United Church Community Ministry Society. Over the years, she made a name for herself raising money for non-profit organizations.
Her biggest ally was the late Virginia Greene, one of B.C.’s most successful business and community leaders. Greene was responsible for marketing Expo 86, and was deputy minister with the Province of British Columbia and a successful business entrepreneur. Early on in her career, Greening says Greene took her under her wing, introducing her to some of the city’s most influential women. “Virginia was everything I wanted to be … authentic, transparent and true to who she was,” Greening says. “She was also opinionated, strong-willed, gifted and yet graceful, passionate and wholly female.”
Greening’s other mentor was Krista Thompson, executive director at Covenant House. “From Krista, I learned about the complexities of a political environment,” Greening says. “I owe a lot to both as they taught me to believe in myself, trust in my decisions and be unapologetic about leading others.”
From former bosses, Greening understood early on that the old-school ways of micromanaging don’t work in today’s workplace. Today, Greening has a team of 26 “exceptionally dedicated people” working for her.“I’m not afraid to hire gifted women who are braver, smarter and more capable than me, because then the organization can only thrive.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
Turning $231,000 into $4.2 million is no easy task. It requires a consortium of dedicated funders and a national non-profit organization, Genome Canada, to believe in the vision sufficiently enough to match the combined funding.
BC Women’s Hospital Foundation is proud to announce that is exactly what happened when it contributed $231,000 alongside its funding partners from the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the Provincial Health Services Authority, Genome BC, and Genome Quebec in jointly securing $2.1 million – and which was matched by national funding agency, Genome Canada – to optimize genetic counselling access and implementation across Canada. In the end, the combined investment totaled $4.2 million, making the “GenCOUNSEL” proposal the largest known genetic counselling grant ever recorded.
Genetic counsellors are specialist healthcare providers who represent the front line of genetics. Genome-wide sequencing (GWS) is a genetic test that analyzes a person’s entire genetic makeup to diagnose the cause of genetic disorders. GWS can also diagnose disorders or increased disease risk that are unrelated to the original reason for testing as well as generate results that are difficult to interpret. By providing education and emotional support to patients and families considering GWS, genetic counsellors help to inform decision-making in genetic testing and can assist in preventing decisions that can have devastating health consequences. GWS is not routinely available in Canada yet, but Dr. Alison Elliott, Board certified genetic counsellor, Clinical Associate Professor, UBC and BC Women’s Hospital Project Lead believes that GWS will soon be clinically available and that this type of new investment has the opportunity to change everything.
“The type of equity and access this investment provides will allow for thousands of Canadians every year to benefit from genomic medicine, regardless of geographic location, or socio-economic status,” says Dr. Elliott.
Alongside her Project Co-Leads, Dr. Jehannine Austin (UBC), Dr. Larry Lynd (UBC), and Dr. Bartha Knoppers (McGill), Dr. Elliott believes this type of homegrown investment; “provides Canada an opportunity to be the global leader in genetic counselling.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
For millions of people worldwide, the correlation between "cancer" and "death" remains an inescapable terror. So when a word like "eradication" enters the cancer lexicon as an outcome, it rightly gains a great deal of attention.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Senior Advisor and Assistant Director of the Women's Health Research Institute at BC Women's Hospital, and Canada Research Chair in Global Control of HPV-related Disease at UBC is on a mission to eradicate cervical cancer in her lifetime – and with her partners across BC, their work is quickly closing the gap in doing so. Her research team focuses on how to use human papillomavirus (HPV) screening and the HPV vaccine to eliminate cervical cancer.
HPV-testing and HPV vaccination are ground-breaking advancements in preventing cervical cancer, and Dr. Ogilvie’s research, which focuses on how to best implement these tools, has placed her at the forefront as a world leader in the global fight to end cervical cancer.
As a result of her team’s work, the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted her recommended two-dose vaccination protocol to prevent HPV infection (previously three doses), and Dr. Ogilvie is determined to examine if we can get it down to one, which would have global impacts on the lives of millions of women. Every year, more than 270,000 women worldwide, most of them in the prime of their lives with babies and young families, die from cervical cancer. Without immediate action, by 2030, that number is projected to rise to 500,000. “At last,' says Ogilvie, 'we have the possibility to head down the road to eradication. There’s no question that HPV-testing is the biggest breakthrough in preventing cervical cancer since the Pap smear.”
While Dr. Ogilvie's research is internationally recognized, she is also honoured to be chosen as 2018's Sexual Health Champion by Options for Sexual Health, Canada's largest non-profit provider of sexual health services. “Dr. Ogilvie’s work offers an opportunity to see a future where HPV related cancers don’t exist in Canada.,’ says Options for Sexual Health Executive Director, Michelle Fortin, ‘Having a local expert conduct this work on such a global scale inspires us all to do better.”
- Awards + Accomplishments
Grateful for their lives, the Laljis are honoured to give back to those just beginning theirs. In the 1970s, the Lalji family fled violence in Uganda and found peace and safety in Canada. The Laljis now wish to offer a similar safe harbour of care to new mothers and their babies at the Urgent Care Centre at BC Women’s Hospital. By establishing their successful real estate business, Larco Investments, the Laljis have been able to generously support many important causes.
The Lalji family values women as a cornerstone of our society and is passionate about contributing to building healthy families and communities. “Coming to Canada has given us immense opportunity and this is just one way that we can give back to people who need care at such an important time in their lives,” said Mansoor Lalji.
The new Urgent Care Centre at BC Women’s Hospital, supported by the Lalji family, is the only one of its kind in Canada for women who are pregnant through until six-weeks post-birth, who arrive for triage, assessment, and admissions to BC Women’s Hospital. The impressive new facility provides care to mothers in a quiet, private and welcoming space while enabling interdisciplinary collaboration and features:
• 10 large private single-patient rooms with designated space for a family member and private patient washrooms
• Redesigned clinical and patient areas to improve line-of-sight and flow of patients
• Large team care centre and private providers area to ensure inter-professional consults and interdisciplinary work
• Improved infection control with dedicated infection isolation rooms
“The gift the Laljis have given BC Women’s is a testament to their commitment to giving back to the community that supported them,” said Genesa M. Greening, President and CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation. “They are living out the values of what it means to pay it forward, and we hope that the future generations of British Columbians who will begin their lives here will be just as inspired.”
- Maternity + Gynecology
For most people, entering the family business usually means assuming a place in some well-oiled company. For Genesa Greening, president and CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation, following in her parents’ footsteps meant embarking on a life steeped in philanthropy.
"My parents were both in social service; they were both ordained ministers in the Salvation Army," Greening said. "I always knew l wanted to change the world even though I probably couldn't articulate how big that world was when I was small."
A desire for change carried her away from traditional schooling and helped her tenaciously achieve her goals without the benefit of post-secondary education.
Greening's fundraising success spans over two decades. She has cultivated growth and innovation at a wide array of hospital foundations, nonprofits and social justice organizations worldwide.
Her expertise garnered her a role as an instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology for fundraising and not-for-profit management programs.
Today, Greening leads a team of 22 at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre Foundation. In just a year at the foundation, she has achieved 100% growth and a 250% rise in revenue projections. “I’ve always been able to find somewhere where there is a gap and I've been able to utilize either my natural skill set or my ability to bring amazing people together," she said.
Now, she is using those skills to improve the health of all women across the province. "I hold the idea that we can really change the tide on women’s health and that we have an opportunity to really work and see all women possess the best possible health care no matter what their socio-economic position or background.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver city council named Greening to the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions as well as the Women’s Advisory Committee, where she served as the chair of the social inclusion and security subcommittee.
Cheryl Davies, Chief Operating Officer at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre; and Genesa Greening, President + CEO of BC Women's Hospital Foundation
Birthplace: St. John’s, Newfoundland
Where you live now: New Westminster
Highest level of education: High school diploma
Currently reading: Rereading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Currently listening to: All things Nigerian music with my son
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: International justice lawyer
Profession you would most like to try: UN ambassador
Toughest business or personal decision: Becoming a single mother
Advice you would give your younger self: What you value in yourself will become what others value so don’t hold back or compare. And never apologize for being capable
What’s left to do: Fight for equality for all
- Awards + Accomplishments
BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre is reinventing and innovating healthcare for women. We are at ground zero in eradicating cervical cancer. Our Oak Tree Clinic has set the global standard for treatment of pregnant and breastfeeding HIV/AIDS positive mothers. FIR Square has defined the model in North America for care and treatment of substance-using pregnant mothers. Our Urgent Care Centre – Canada’s only maternity Emergency Room – will see 15,000 patient visits a year. Our NICU houses the only mother-and-baby unit in North America.
At the helm are a team of renowned medical experts who are world leaders in women’s health. Dr. Gina Ogilvie is a global health strategic thinker and researcher working to eradicate cervical cancer worldwide. Cheryl Davies is a proven change maker, systems innovator and chief operating officer of the only women’s hospital in Canada. Genesa M. Greening is an advocator and disrupter committed to transforming the public discourse on women’s rights. Dr. Dorothy Shaw is a lifelong, tireless trailblazer for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide. And Dr. Lori Brotto is a scientist, knowledge translator, and leader of western Canada’s only Research Institute devoted to women’s health discoveries.
You can be a part of medical history by making your donation to BC Women’s.
On Wednesday, November 15, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) announced a $500,000 investment in Kangaroo Mother Care in BC. This special skin-to-skin attachment program has proven long-term benefits to families by reducing anxiety, stress and the risk of depression in both mother and child.
The funds cover the cost of launching the program throughout BC, including development of training and educational materials for nurses and parents. It will also help to provide wraps that support skin-to-skin contact, known as kangaroo mother baby wraps.
This shift in the model of care – to including parents as partners – is what has proven BC Women’s NICU to be a world leader. And Michelle Peltier experienced this first-hand, when her daughter Olive was born premature and stayed at BC Women’s NICU.
Photo credit: the Province of British Columbia.
When Michelle spoke at the announcement, she shared how learning how to safely practice skin-to-skin was what helped her cope and build confidence to care for her tiny newborn.
“Skin-to-skin took my pain away. It changed everything. It taught me watch my baby, rather than the monitors” – Michelle Peltier, former patient mother at BC Women’s NICU.
Michelle’s family is just one example of so many that will benefit from Kangaroo Care with this new investment. BC Women’s is incredibly excited to see this model of care extended across the province– a move that will empower families beyond hospital walls and ensure all babies in BC get the very best start in life.
Pictured here (L-R): Michelle Peltier, patient family; Maryam Kiarash, Perinatal Clinical Educator; Megan Bolton,
Senior Practice Leader; Cheryl Davies, Chief Operating Officer, BC Women’s; Susan Wannamaker, President, BC Children’s and Women’s Health; Genesa Greening, President + CEO, BC Women’s Hospital + Health Care Centre Foundation; Hon. Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development; Gina Chung and son Forrest; Carl Roy, President & CEO, PHSA; Dr. Horacio Osiovich, Head, Neonatology and member of BC Women’s Medical Leadership; Dr. Tamil Kendall, Interim Provincial Executive Director, Perinatal Services BC; Dr. Lori Brotto, Executive Director, Women’s Health Research Institute.
Please make a donation to women, families and newborns across British Columbia.
- Awards + Accomplishments
On October 29, 2017, BC Women’s welcomed its first patients to the newly outfitted Newborn ICU at the Teck Acute Care Centre.
BC Women’s new Newborn ICU features 70 private rooms designed for tiny patients and their families. 10 of these special rooms will actually allow mothers to receive care alongside their newborns – the first in North America (and only second in the world) to completely redesign the model of care. This is all thanks to over 4,000 donors who contributed $17 million towards the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment for the smallest patients at BC Women’s Hospital.
For parents like Tawnya Ritco and Tom Mayenknect (pictured), the collective success of this campaign literally meant the difference between life and death for their premature daughter, Alexa.
In 2016, Alexa was born at three pounds and spent 10 weeks in the original Newborn ICU in order to survive. Ritco and Mayenknect were introduced to a hands-on approach for families, a unique model of care that will continue to be rolled out in the new facility. The new Newborn ICU will have dedicated educational spaces where parents will learn how to care for their tiny family members, easing the transition from hospital to home.
When Tawnya and Tom first saw the new facility, they had a strong emotional response reflecting on their own experience. “I immediately grasped how much of a difference the new NICU will make for new parents working their ways through the challenges around premature birth.” - Tawnya Ritco
The new Newborn ICU will have family respite and relaxation areas for parents and siblings. “As a NICU parent, I just know how much special comfort it will bring to countless families by allowing moms to stay with their babies. That will go a long way to allowing their babies to not only survive, but thrive!” - Tawnya Ritco
The Hope Starts Here campaign has been BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation’s most successful to date, keeping the Hospital at the forefront of rapid changes in technology, research and medical advancements. As the referral centre for Western Canada, BC Women’s Newborn ICU admits an average of 10 at-risk newborns per week from other hospitals, providing specialized care that can only be found at BC Women’s NICU.
“Our journey had a gratifying outcome because of the comprehensive medical care, supportive environment and leading-edge technology that is synonymous with the NICU. The new NICU in the Teck Acute Care Centre will only take all of that to the next level as an innovative model of neonatal medical care in British Columbia, Canada and the world.” - Tom Mayenknecht
- Neonatal ICU
“If it had to happen, I was lucky it happened here.” These are the words of a mother, Anna McCandles, as she reflects on the heartbreaking loss of her dear daughter, Josephine, on this October 15th; Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
As mothers and families worldwide take time to reflect on the losses of those taken too soon, Anna exudes a wisdom and strength earned through hearing the most tragic of words during an ultrasound at BC Women’s Hospital; “I’m so sorry.” Baby Josephine was discovered to have had her umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck and later delivered stillborn – and Anna’s life would never be the same again.
While inexplicable grief and heartbreak have marked the days, weeks and three years between then and now, Anna has elected to honour young Josephine’s memory by sharing her experience and counselling others who have shared a similar experience to reach out, receive help, pursue supports and to commemorate the lives of those unlived.
“Reach out, connect, and get support. It is so much harder to heal alone. You’re not crazy to grieve so deeply. It’s a sign of the depth of your love. You will always be the mother of this child, and they will always be a deep part of your life, rather than a traumatic event to ‘get over’ and get back to normal”.
This is what fellow NICU alumni, and filmmaker, Amanda Lockitch experienced during the birth of her son at BC Women's Hospital. The experience was so life-changing that Amanda has submitted a proposal to The STORYHIVE film contest, presented by Telus, with the hopes of winning at 100K grant to make a documentary film about life in the new NICU.
"When there is a revolution happening right in your own backyard, we feel it is extremely relevant to trumpet loudly across the community of British Columbia. The new NICU at the soon-to-open Teck Acute Care Centre is truly revolutionary. It will be a facility that BC, and our entire nation, can point to as an immense source of pride." -Amanda
If you're interested in Amanda's efforts, make sure to like and follow Amanda's pages so we can show the STORYHIVE judges that there's an audience eagerly awaiting the release of her film titled Out of the Incubator and Into my Arms.
- Neonatal ICU
Endometriosis, a disease in which tissue from the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, affects one in 10 women — and the results can be devastating. Symptoms include pelvic pain and infertility, and recent research suggests a slightly increased risk of future ovarian cancer. Doctors from the BC Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis are making major strides in understanding and treating this condition.
Researchers are performing groundbreaking work on genetic changes in endometriosis cells. The goal is to create a new genetic classification for endometriosis, which could better predict outcomes in women with different genetic types of endometriosis. A study at the Centre showed the importance of nerve growth around endometriosis cells, which may present an opportunity for new medications to treat endometriosis pain.
“It took awhile to get to this point,” says Dr. Paul Yong, director of the research program at the BC Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis. While the Centre’s primary purpose is to serve as an interdisciplinary clinic, nearly 90 per cent of patients are involved in various ongoing studies showing strong support for research in its population. Since being founded in 2011 the Centre has developed a data registry of over 2,000 patients, received multiple national research grants and published many papers in major scientific journals.
Just 10 years out of finishing an MD/PhD, Dr. Yong has quickly become a leading voice in his field. On top of his broad research portfolio, he also sees hundreds of patients a year, performs advanced surgeries and teaches medical trainees. He is described by his peers as dedicated, collaborative and always looking for new ways to improve patient care.
One of the Centre’s main research goals is to directly inform clinical practice: A recent study at the Centre, which demonstrated the importance of psychological and musculoskeletal factors in pelvic pain, was published in one of the top journals in the field. Pain education, mindfulness-based therapy and physical therapy is now offered to Centre patients, and they’re reaping great results.
Though their work is already making great progress, Dr. Yong says this is only the beginning. He and his team will continue to build on their knowledge in coming years, all while continuing to offer patients the latest in interdisciplinary treatment.
“There’s a lot of suffering associated with endometriosis,” says Dr. Yong. “A big part of our research is translating it to the clinic so it can help patients.”
Dr. Paul Yong photographed by Brian Howell
Article by: Laura Rodgers
Please make a donation to the BC Women's Centre for Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis
- Pelvic Pain and Endometriosis
When Oak Tree first opened, the transmission rate was 22%. Reaching less than 1% is a major accomplishment, due to tireless efforts in research and medical advancements across BC.
BC Women’s Oak Tree Clinic provides inter-professional HIV care for women, infants, and youth. Specialists work closely with the BC Centre for Disease Control for surveillance, and with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS for drug therapy and overall provincial coordination.
Unique to BC Women’s, the Oak Tree Clinic oversees the only women-exclusive peer support groups in BC. The value of these ‘for women, by women’ groups is immeasurable, building relationships of mutual support and reducing isolation.
Youth are the fastest growing population living with HIV in BC. Specialists at BC Women’s recognize that countering stigma contributes to better medication adherence. For the past two years, they’ve worked with the community organization YouthCO to develop the Positive Youth Project.
This harm-reduction program combines routine medical clinic visits to Oak Tree with education, recreation, mentorship activities, and an online networking portal that has reached an estimated 500 + youth living with HIV/AIDS across Canada.
Socially connected healthy lives with HIV, rather than defined by HIV.
The stigma and discrimination towards those living with HIV/AIDS is very real and can be very isolating. This World AIDS Day, BC Women’s encourages everyone across BC to join the conversation and promote healthier outcomes for people of all ages living with HIV.
- Oak Tree Clinic
This week saw hundreds of avid golfers and supporters land at the University Golf Course to take part in the annual Air Canada Birdies for Babies charity golf tournament, in support of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation.
2017 marks the 5th year in partnership with Air Canada and in addition to the great news of yet another sell out, BC Women’s Hospital Foundation is also honoured to announce Air Canada has renewed its title sponsorship through until 2019.
“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Air Canada as we feel there is such a natural synergy between our organizations,’ Genesa Greening, President + CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation said. ‘With a commitment to safety, technology and world-class service, we share a passion that impacts our approach to everything we do and it’s exciting to have a partner that embraces those principles.”
Together with Air Canada representatives from coast-to-coast and a field of golfers which included business leaders, Vancouver Canucks alumni and homegrown superstar, Evander Kane of the Buffalo Sabres, a record $403,000 was raised in support of the lifesaving work that occurs each and every day inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at BC Women’s Hospital.
“Air Canada and its employees are proud to be associated with Birdies for Babies. We share with BC Women’s Hospital Foundation a desire to help our communities, especially newborns,’ Kevin C. Howlett, Air Canada’s Vancouver-based Senior Vice President, Regional Markets and Government Relations said. ‘On behalf of Air Canada’s employees, I thank everyone who took time to attend, generously support and tirelessly give their time at this year’s Birdies for Babies Charity Golf Tournament. We are all particularly proud of the record amount raised this year which will help BC Women’s Hospital continue their important work giving vulnerable newborns the best possible medical care, and their families the best possible experience.”
With help from emcee and CTV Vancouver news anchor, Mike Killeen, alongside keynote speaker, NICU dad and TSN Radio Vancouver broadcaster, Tom Mayenknecht, and an astonishing assortment of luxury auction items including Air Canada business travel and accommodations in London, Cabo San Lucas and Montreal, the record amount raised will help ensure a continued investment in the best possible physicians, equipment and research on behalf of the 1500 high risk newborns which begin their fragile lives far too early in the NICU at BC Women’s Hospital.
- Awards + Accomplishments
Genesa most recently served as the Executive Director of First United Church Community Ministry Society, an inner-city ministry committed to the struggle for social justice, offering advocacy, hospitality, housing and other programs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Prior to that, she served as Acting Chief Operating Officer of Dream Corps Unlimited and Deputy Director of Green for All, both in Oakland, California; and as the Director, Community Strategies and Resource Development at Union Gospel Mission. Genesa also held senior roles with Ketchum Canada Inc. (Canada’s largest fundraising consultancy firm), working extensively with VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation, Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation and other fundraising organizations.
Genesa is an experienced, proven and strategic leader and team-builder. She is “beyond excited” to be joining the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation team.
We are, of course, sorry to see Laurie retire from the CEO role after six truly outstanding years of service, but we feel we have found a very worthy successor and are excited about what Genesa will bring to the organization as we look to the opportunities ahead for BC Women’s Hospital.
- Awards + Accomplishments
She encourages women who are pregnant with multiples to be kind to themselves and accept that not everything will go according to their ideal birth plan.
"I try to manage (couples') expectations and encourage forgiveness and self-care throughout the pregnancy," she says. "The truth is that not all moms of twins have a vaginal birth and are able to exclusively breastfeed."
Bloomenthal is dedicated to helping the couples under her care to understand and cope with the challenges of a twin pregnancy and caring for two newborns.
She is a also a firm believer in the power of the support that can be found by connecting with other parents in the same situation.
Here is Dr. Dena Bloomenthal with two of her beautiful little patients
We asked her to share the common-sense advice that she gives to pregnant women and their partners when they find out there is more than one baby on the way.
Prepare for the challenges of a twin pregnancy.
As your babies grow, your size will impact every activity that you do. It will be more difficult to move around, work, drive etc. Towards the end of your pregnancy, your partner will need to help you with the simple things that you take for granted, such as getting out of bed, dressing and driving. As you grow bigger, it will also impact your ability to sleep or rest comfortably.
With a singleton, you can work to 38 weeks, but with twins, plan on finishing earlier.
Your ideal birthing plan may not be possible, but it's important to kind to yourself.
It's less likely that you will have a "normal" vaginal delivery when you are pregnant with twins. For example, epidurals are common in twin pregnancies because there are two babies to deliver and it's important for women to have good pain control. For some women, an elective (pre-booked) cesarean section will be the recommended approach.
When you have twins, feeding breast milk alone is not the norm.
Although many of the internet sources stress feeding babies with breast milk alone, not all women can breastfeed two babies exclusively.
"Trying to feed twins and pump breast milk can make women exhausted and depressed," Bloomenthal notes. "The last thing that a woman should be feeling at this point in her life is a failure. Don't base your happiness on exclusively breastfeeding. If you need to top up your babies, don't feel bad about it - just do your best."
Get help! Develop your support network.
Sort out your support network before the babies come home. When there are twins on the way, Bloomenthal recommends that partners plan on taking as much time off work as possible. Also, if grandparents, or other relatives/friends offer to come and help, take them up on it and develop a schedule so that there's always someone there to help you.
"It's so wonderful to have help holding, caring, bathing and feeding babies when you have two," she says.
If you can bring in professional help, such as a part-time nanny for a few days or nights a week, consider this option: "Just because you are home on maternity leave, it doesn't mean that you should be able to manage on your own!"
Connect with other parents of multiples.
Networking with others in the same situation gives parents the opportunity to feel connected and supported by a wider network, even when they are home all day with the babies.
Other parents with experience can provide a wealth of information - everything from advice on positions for breastfeeding two babies at once, to insights on the best baby equipment and reassurance that poor sleep patterns don't last forever.
When you are expecting multiples, your maternity care provider is the best person to provide advice and recommendations on the best resources to guide you through pregnancy, birthing and early parenting.
BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre website has breastfeeding information for parents of multiples.
Multiple Births Canada is a national support organization providing a variety of information for parents of multiples.
This article was written by Anne McLaughlin with information provided by BC Women's obstetrician, Dr. Dena Bloomenthal
- Maternity + Gynecology
Dr. Brotto has a PhD in Psychology from UBC. She also trained at the University of Washington where she completed a one-year internship in the Department of Psychiatry followed by a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship in Reproductive and Sexual Medicine. She is a Professor in the UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and was the inaugural Division Head of Gynecologic Specialties until the start of this appointment. She teaches sexual health interviewing for medical students and obstetric/gynecology residents, and is a supervisor for psychology residents and practicum students. She is a Registered Psychologist with the BC College of Psychologists.
Dr. Brotto holds a Canada Research Chair in Women’s Sexual Health. She conducts research on women’s sexual health, with specific lines of focus on the development and testing of mindfulness-based and psychological treatments for women. She is a member of the International Academy of Sex Research, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, the Canadian Sex Research Forum, and the Canadian Psychological Association. She has published over 150 articles and book chapters, has given 200 invited presentations, and is frequently contacted by the media as a guest expert on the topic of sexuality. She was a member of the DSM-5 workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders published in May 2013. She is a health expert writer for the Globe and Mail where she writes a monthly column focused on sexual health and well-being.
The mandate of the Executive Director, WHRI will include setting the health research agenda for WHRI in conjunction with senior leadership at BC Women’s. Dr. Brotto will work with an Advisory Council and will collaborate with research leadership at UBC and other health authority research institutes to define and facilitate a women’s health research strategy for BC. She will play a pivotal role in the team effort towards integrating and coordinating the women’s health research effort within BC Women’s, PHSA, UBC and other partner universities. Her responsibilities will include planning, organizing, staffing, directing and managing outcomes of the WHRI and working effectively with government and community partners to enable the integrated research vision.
Dr. Brotto’s office will be located in the WHRI on the 3rd Floor of the Women’s Health Centre at BCW where she will be onsite Wednesdays and Thursdays. She will maintain an office and laboratory at the Diamond Health Care Centre the rest of the week.
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Brotto on her appointment, and in welcoming her to her new role in the Women’s Health Research Institute!
- Awards + Accomplishments
- Women's Health Research