Dr. Nadia Fairbairn and Dr. Ying Wang

Partners in healthier living

Promise Magazine: Promise 2021
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Providence Health Care (PHC) is all about transforming the patient experience with a collaborative patient and family-centred model of care. But we don’t do it alone. We work with a team of partners including clinicians, researchers, academics, and health care specialists. These partnerships not only amplify our individual strengths, they inspire us to aim higher and to accomplish more.

Here’s a look at three of our incredible collaborative projects and how they’re sharing knowledge, improving care, and saving lives.

A bright spot in the overdose crisis

Last year, almost five British Columbians died every day from a toxic opioid overdose. Dr. Nadia Fairbairn, MD, MHSc, is on the vanguard of changing that.

Fairbairn is the inaugural holder of the Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine, the first academic position of its kind in Canada. It’s named in honour of the former Vancouver mayor and advocate for the then-controversial approach to treat substance use as a public health issue in need of harm reduction policies.

“Philip Owen looked at the science, he listened to the people most affected by the crisis, and he started a revolution that continues his legacy to this day,” says Fairbairn. “It is a huge honour to be the first recipient of this professorship.”

In collaboration with colleagues at UBC, the BC Centre on Substance Use, and the wider harm-reduction community, Fairbairn will work to close the evidence-to-practice gap between addiction medicine and boots-on-the ground action.

“Addiction is one of the most prevalent conditions in the general population. Yet, there’s a substantial gap in substance use and addiction training amongst medical practitioners,” she says.

Her goal is two-fold: increase training and expand treatment with the evidence-based medications currently available.

Ethics in action

What is ethical awareness? At PHC, it means examining specific problems, often related to clinical cases, and then using values, facts, and logic to decide the best course of action.

Later this year, PHC and St. Mark’s College at UBC will welcome Dr. Scott Kline, PhD, as the inaugural visiting scholar in ethics. It’s a partnership that has its roots in a call from Pope Francis for Catholic institutions to tackle today’s complex moral challenges with a “culture of care” and in “social dialogue.”

Dr. Scott Kline

Kline will work jointly with PHC’s clinical ethics team and the broader community to explore the complex ethical issues faced by health care providers.

Kline has a PhD in Christian Social Ethics and extensive experience as a teacher, theologian, and researcher. He is especially interested in faith-based organizations and their role in efforts to address big issues facing society, including peacebuilding, homelessness, patient care, and public health.

He is already collaborating with a research team led by St. Paul’s Hospital’s Dr. Jim Christenson, MD, called Can-SAVE, which aims to significantly increase the survival rate for individuals who suffer a sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA). Kline’s focus is on encouraging bystanders to get involved when they see someone in cardiac arrest.

“Because we’re wanting to more than double the OHCA survival rate in Canada, which is currently only around 5-7%, we’re undertaking this work in collaboration with multiple partners across the country, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada,” he says. “It’s exciting because we know that bystander intervention programs save lives and dramatically increase survival rates. As you can imagine, this work could be really transformative,” he says.

“With communities, neighbourhoods, workplaces, service organizations, and religious bodies championing programs like ‘neighbours saving neighbours,’ Canada can cultivate a nation-wide culture that will save lives and reunite victims of sudden cardiac arrest with their families and friends.”

Fighting back against heart disease

Heart disease and stroke kill more Canadians than anything else. That’s something Dr. Ying Wang, PhD, is trying to change. Wang is a researcher with the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, located at St. Paul’s Hospital and affiliated with UBC.

Dr. Wang says atherosclerosis is like a multi-car pile-up on the highway. “Diseased cells block the traffic and cause inflammatory chaos,” she says.

“At the moment, there are no biomarkers to reliably predict if someone’s symptoms are leading to lethal heart attack or stroke or which patients will benefit the most from which types of treatment.” For example, will the patient do better with drugs that lower cholesterol, those that reduce inflammation, or a combination of both? We don’t yet know.

As you can imagine, this is a complex project that involves the collaborative efforts of our leading scientists, pathologists, and clinicians. “Our goal is to develop an early detection method so patients can get a quick test, we can see their biomarkers, and we can get them started on a personalized treatment program right away,” says Wang.

Continuing her analogy of a busy highway, Dr. Wang’s research utilizes the latest multiplex imaging technology to “review each vehicle, its interactions with other vehicles, and the overall highway conditions.” It’s almost like a traffic helicopter. “If there’s a crash, we can see the major cause and we can figure out how to best sort out the resulting chaos.”

Article by Michelle Hopkins and Kris Wallace | Photography by Jeff Topham

These are just a few of our amazing researchers and their exciting collaborations. It’s a powerful reminder that while the new St. Paul’s will be an impressive building, it’s our people who will drive the innovation, discovery, and compassion. Your donation at helpstpauls.com/partnerships supports their extraordinary work.

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