5 questions with Fraser Health Authority CEO Victoria Lee

The new boss of the largest health authority in the province talks about the obstacles that stand in her way.

Courtesy of the Fraser Health Authority

The new boss of the largest health authority in the province talks about the obstacles that stand in her way

1. You joined Fraser Health in 2010 and took over as CEO last October after serving as a medical health officer and then chief medical officer. What unique perspective do you bring?

In my prior role, I always looked at my patients as our population and our community. I think that is a unique aspect. I’m a physician and health-care provider, so I have that clinical background and vocational perspective. I found it helpful in being able to look beyond the regional perspectives in terms of the care we provide for our patients and families and community.

2. What are some of the bigger challenges in the new job?

We serve 1.8 million people across 20 communities; it’s very diverse, and it’s growing very quickly. There are a lot of opportunities for work that’s very specific to local content, so being able to balance all of that as well as ensuring we’re delivering on our vision and our mandate has been a challenge. But it’s an opportunity, from our perspective, because we have a growing number of older populations and changing expectations in our health system. We also have more of a role in chronic diseases, mental health issues and substance abuse. So we see the impact of community issues in our health system, whether it’s housing or social isolation.

3. How about the opioid crisis? Where does the province go from here?

This has been the biggest and toughest public health challenge we have faced recently. I think part of the challenge is that there isn’t a silver-bullet solution. There’s a lot of work under way at the provincial level with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, at local levels with community action teams and regionally, as well, to expand treatments and services. For me, these things need to work collaboratively and in a coordinated way, but I think we need to tackle broader, underlying issues that caused the epidemic: chronic pain, social isolation and what we’re doing about those issues, how we’re addressing the contaminated drug supply and people’s ability to access care. How do we provide people with help and support, and in a way that’s anonymous and technologically enabled, and as convenient and accessible as possible?

4. What’s your vision for Fraser Health?

I believe we need to be creative instead of rigid. We need to empower people instead of victimizing people. And we really need to challenge the status quo and think outside the box. Health care as an institution has been quite stagnant in many aspects. I sometimes joke about it, but for many of the students who enter our system, it’s the first time in their lives they’re seeing fax machines and pagers. Those communication tools were phased out in the rest of our world many years ago. I think there are huge opportunities with artificial intelligence, automation, patient portals, patient engagement—we need to be taking more risks in our help here. And not in a way that’s going to be a risk to patient care; I’m talking more about policies and process and infrastructure and technologies.

5. Universal Pharmacare has been proposed in some circles. Do you think it’s a good idea?

If you look at the health system trends, where we have seen significant increases in cost is medication and drugs. While there are people who have access to essential medication and pharmaceuticals through their insurance plan, a lot are left out of that as well. I am a huge fan of ensuring that people have equitable access to health services that are required, and whatever we can do to support that is an important area. I also think that part of the issue isn’t just access but how we use our services effectively, and choosing wisely and how we encourage people to manage their conditions. We know that the majority of people who are prescribed medication don’t actually follow through with it.

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