By Susanne Martin – Bowen Island Undercurrent
Published: December 07, 2012 9:00 AM
Until Sunday, December 16, Bowen residents have a chance to participate in a survey that gauges the health and well-being of North Shore residents. While the survey does not exclusively focus on islanders, Dr. Jat Sandhu, regional director of the Public Health Surveillance Unit, believes it is important to get their input. “I can’t emphasize enough that we want to hear local-level voices. The data will give us valuable tools for engaging local governments and organizations.”
The survey can be completed online at www.vch.ca/northshoresurvey and aims to reach residents in the city and district of North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Lions Bay and Bowen Island to learn about their community involvement, household and neighbourhood characteristics that may influence individual health and well-being. The survey is conducted by Vancouver Coastal Health and Dr. Sandhu explained that while provincial and national surveys provide health statistics on a larger geographical level, the North Shore Wellness Survey could help to attain more detailed information that could be used to “plug gaps” in local health and wellness services.
“It’s important to gather this information to ensure that we are offering relevant and appropriate programs and services,” Dr. Sandhu said. “The data will help set priorities and allocate resources, contributing to reductions in inequalities and more efficient use of health care and municipal dollars.” Part of the health authorities’ broader mandate is to promote healthier communities, according to Dr. Sandhu who feels that it is important to partner with local governments and community organization to identify health determinants that can be improved, leading to healthier lifestyles.
Colleen O’Neil is one of the founders of the Caring Circle, an organization that is working to improve health care services on Bowen. She sees the survey as an opportunity to provide input but she doesn’t believe it includes the right questions to address some of the key issues for island residents. “It is never asked, ‘Do you have problems accessing social or health support services,’” she said. “The survey talks about commuting to work but it doesn’t talk about commuting to visit a doctor, a hospital, physical therapy, heart programs, etc.”
O’Neil is a former palliative care nurse, who has worked to identify resources and gaps on Bowen. She recalls giving a ride to an islander traveling on the ferry to access post-stroke care. “Here is someone recovering from a stroke who has to take public transit when he is just learning to walk. And support groups and clinics are very far away,” she said, adding that many locals are apprehensive of having health problems. She believes that those concerns will not be reflected in the survey. “We have many positive things and the questions about quality of life will not highlight some of the problems people face,” she said, adding that she would welcome a follow-up survey that explores the needs and challenges for island residents.
Dr. Sandhu believes that the survey could “tease out the responses from Bowen Island” and lead to a more community-specific engagement. “The issue of access [to health care services] is very real,” Dr. Sandhu said. “Through the survey, we hope to get a better sense of what access people have. And we can start a discussion on where services should be placed to best meet a community’s needs.”
He sees the survey as an important first step. “The first part is being able to measure where we are at and find out what is happening on the ground,” he said. “It’s a way for the health authority to take stock and provide feedback to local governments. From that, we can discuss what can be done.”
Dr. Sandhu added that the survey’s comment box can draw attention to important aspects that are not covered by the questions.