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Meet Island Health’s new chief medical health officer

by Ozva Admin

COVID will continue to be a focus, but Dr. Reka Gustafson, Island Health’s new chief medical officer, has other priorities as well.

Dr. Réka Gustafson, who as deputy provincial health director led some of the province’s toxic drug and pandemic updates, now focuses on the upcoming COVID flu season, vaccines and managing outbreaks in long-term care as he takes office. as medical director of health of the island.

In the last two years, the COVID-19 virus and vaccines have dominated our lives, but Gustafson says now is the time to move from an emergency response to a more comprehensive approach to our health routines, including annual vaccines against the flu.

“It is important that at this stage we also remember the importance of vaccination against influenza,” he said. “We need to make sure that we restore our childhood immunizations, our school immunization programs, so that we can put in place all the preventative measures that make sure people stay well.”

Island Health announced Gustafson as its chief medical officer in July after Dr. Richard Stanwick retired in January. Gustafson stepped down from his leadership role at the BC Center for Disease Control to take on the new position.

In the coming months and years, Gustafson will lead the health authority’s public health teams in a pandemic recovery response, particularly as it relates to the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

The ongoing overdose crisis is also among his top priorities. Toxic drug poisoning is the leading cause of death among 19-39 year olds on Vancouver Island, and was the second leading cause of death among those under 19 during the pandemic.

Gustafson said the contributing causes of problematic substance use generally occur in childhood and adolescence. The health authority must address those who contribute to the toxic drug crisis, whether through school programming or the prevention of adverse childhood events, he said.

“I have a keen interest in focusing on that as a public health physician,” he said. “As a public health system, we absolutely need to respond to the crisis, but we need to address its root causes at the same time.”

Addressing the direct and indirect impacts of climate change is high on Gustafson’s agenda.

“That’s probably my biggest passion, is focusing on what’s really affecting the health of islanders, and in particular what’s affecting individual health and communities, and not forgetting the things that may not be at the top.” of the news. ” she said.

Alcohol consumption, “which has increased substantially during the pandemic,” is also a concern, he said.

“We know that alcohol-related illnesses, injuries and deaths are a major health problem in the population,” Gustafson said.

In its suggested update to Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines released last month, the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction says the risk is negligible to low for two drinks per week, moderate for three to six drinks a week and getting higher beyond that.

The proposed new guidelines are a marked departure from current guidelines, published in 2011, which suggested limiting alcohol consumption to 10 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men.

Gustafson said it will take more than communicating guidelines and even establishing municipal or provincial policies to reduce consumption. Rather, he said, it is the “subtle normalization and cultural influences on alcohol consumption that really need to be addressed.”

“We have a problem that we need to address, but we need to address it in a way that acknowledges the fact that this is a very important part of our culture and how we live our lives and it’s really political and social. cultural level that we need to address,” he said.

Gustafson previously served as vice president of public health and wellness for the Provincial Health Services Authority, as medical health officer for the City of Vancouver, and as deputy director of medical health for Vancouver Coastal Health.

He completed a master’s degree in science and health sciences and a medical degree at the University of BC.

Gustafson said he considers it a privilege to work for Island Health. She looks forward to meeting her colleagues and particularly the island communities and learning about local issues relevant to the people here.

She said she’s transitioning to the island, spending most of the workweek here and “figuring out where I’d like to settle down.”

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