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Leaders share a sneak peek at the future of BCMHSUS

As we enter a new year, goal-setting is at the top of many people’s minds, including leaders planning for the year ahead.
At BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS), Chief Operating Officer, Darlene MacKinnon and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vijay Seethapathy are focusing on a few key 2022 priorities that align with the broader BCMHSUS Directional Plan.
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​Darlene MacKinnon, Chief Operating Officer, and Dr. Vijay Seethapathy, Chief Medical Officer at BCMHSUS.

​“A lot of work and heart went into our overarching directional plan, with lots of engagement with frontline clinicians, staff and leaders,” said Dr. Seethapathy. “It outlines our main focus areas, which are aligned with the commitments of PHSA and the provincial government.”

Dr. Seethapathy is one of very few psychiatrists across B.C. who specializes in treating patients with complex co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders—a passion that he holds close to his heart. Joining him in the dyad leadership team is MacKinnon, who was appointed as the chief operating officer in November, 2021. A nurse by background with more than 15 years in progressive leadership roles, MacKinnon understands the challenges today’s clients and patients face.

Investing in people 

Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce is an important priority in providing the highest quality care at all times. Preventing staff turnover is especially relevant as health-care providers continue to face immense fatigue due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The work that we do here at BCMHSUS is very challenging and COVID-19 has made it even more so.” - Darlene MacKinnon

“That’s why it’s important for us as leaders to really understand the different supports that staff, physicians and all of our teams need so that they are empowered to continue providing excellent care, while finding joy in their work," said MacKinnon. "We can have all kinds of exciting new programs or buildings, but taking care of our people, whether that's clients, patients or staff, has to be our top priority.”

Part of this focus will involve gathering direct feedback from staff, clinicians, physicians, researchers and others through site visits, engagement sessions and wellness surveys. 

Recently, BCMHSUS became one of the first programs in the province to receive funding from the Doctors of BC in support of a pilot project focused on physician quality improvement and skill development. This work is being led by a physician quality lead who will work alongside medical staff and frontline clinicians for up to six months.

“The physician quality lead will help us enhance education among clinicians, offer peer mentorship, and in advance knowledge translation and quality improvement across all of our sites,” explained Dr. Seethapathy. 

Advancing knowledge exchange through enhanced virtual health 

Spurred by the pandemic, the digitization of health has accelerated the use of numerous virtual health tools and these solutions are here to stay.

“Even before the pandemic, virtual health has shown tremendous value in improving care, along with better patient engagement and experience,” said Dr. Seethapathy. “As a provincial service, it’s important that clients and families in all corners of the province get connected with the right services at the right time, and it’s up to us to lead the way.”

Thanks to recent funding from Telus, there are plans to launch a virtual innovation hub that will allow BCMHSUS to pilot and scale innovative technologies, care solutions and research that will ultimately support our complex client population. Identifying other funding opportunities that will close gaps in access to care will be a continued focus, added MacKinnon.
In keeping with its commitment to promote knowledge translation and exchange, BCMHSUS will launch its first provincial learning rounds in February 2022. Attracting partners from across B.C., these rounds will provide a platform for staff, clinicians, researchers and others to gain a deeper understanding of issues specific to mental health and addiction treatment, and to inspire new ideas for improving care.

To the future and beyond

Dr. Seethapathy pointed out that while these priorities will be a key focus of BCMHSUS’ work, change is constant and new challenges arise each day.

“Although we are working towards specific priorities, life doesn’t always take us in a straight line. We’re seeing that with both the toxic drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our clients and patients, as well as the wellness of our workforce,” he said. 

In spite of these challenges, both Dr. Seethapathy and MacKinnon, sees the future of BCMHSUS is hopeful and filled with opportunities.

“There are crucial gaps in the specialized mental health and substance use system that we’re working to fill,” said Dr. Seethapathy. “As a provincial service, we are able to bridge connections with government ministries, and work with health authority partners and other stakeholders to advocate for new initiatives that could reach more people in need.”

“Ultimately, at the heart of our work is a desire to see everyone in B.C. reach their full potential, by making sure that people get the support they need, when and where they need it." - Darlene MacKinnon.
MacKinnon continued, "My focus remains on making sure that our services continue to be innovative, culturally-safe, and person- and family-centred, and that teams feel supported and energized to handle any challenges together.”

BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services; Planning and Design; virtual health
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