VPSA members meet with B.C. Deputy Minister of Health

Stephen Brown, British Columbia’s Deputy Minister of Health, was the special guest at the Vancouver Physician Staff Association’s (VPSA’s) January 9 Breakfast with Leaders session. He talked candidly with VPSA physicians as well as VCH leaders and representatives from Doctors of BC and the Specialist Services Committee about physician engagement and why it matters.

DM Brown’s journey to the Ministry

The deputy minister began the conversation by explaining how he came to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Trained as a psychologist, DM Brown developed a passion for engagement and in helping others through his work in change management. He was drawn to the non-profit social sector and, when interviewed for a position with the Ministry, felt the job would be stimulating as well as a high value area to be involved with.

DM Brown began his career with MoH as Assistant Deputy Minister in Medical Services, a position he held from 2002 to 2009. He followed this up with a few years as the Chief Admissions Officer and then as the Deputy Minister for Children and Family Development. He was appointed the Deputy Minister of Health on June 10, 2013.

“A key part of my role is to help the government of the day and the appointed minister achieve their agenda for health care. I help government translate its platform to make it work on the ground. I represent the minister and ministry’s perspective.”

On creating an environment that facilitates engagement

The Facility Engagement Initiative resulted from working with Doctors of BC and represents DM Brown’s view that complex and diverse organizations need to collaborate in order to move forward.

“We engage locally and form relationships with our immediate colleagues,” he said. “But it’s much more challenging to lift engagement to the level of a big enterprise such as VCH or the Ministry. VPSA has 1,900 members across a number of sites; connecting meaningfully with everyone is difficult.

“As a ministry we are creating a framework so people understand the cycle of when decisions are made,” he added. “For physicians to be effective in connecting with their health authority and the Ministry, dialogue needs to take place and relationships are necessary. You need to create space, which requires time and compromise by everyone. VPSA’s Go for Coffee project is a great way to do this. You won’t necessarily come to share the same vision but you might be able to bring your different interests and passions together.”

Building relationships

VPSA members attending the session also had opportunities to ask DM Brown a wide range of questions.

Dr. Bob Woollard, Community Family Practice, asked how DM Brown views connections between MoH’s strategic directions on primary care reform, rural services, and surgical high-tech services.

“I thought his suggestion that we need to rethink the way we recruit physicians to see if they would be willing to visit rural locations once or twice a month was worth thinking about more,” said Dr. Woollard.

Radiologist Dr. John Mayo inquired about the reorganization of medical imaging under PHSA. “How will the VGH Department of Medical Imaging be responsive to the needs of VGH?” he asked.

“We have wrestled with what services we need to do provincially, regionally and locally and the role of MoH; it’s a work in progress,” responded DM Brown. “PHSA will bring recommendations to leadership council, which will include the budget implications and an investment strategy. We’re currently trying to understand where the benefits are to provincial coordination.”

VPSA members respond

The event received high scores from VPSA members who attended.

“I was impressed with his passion and dedication,” said Dr. Noa Mallek, Ophthalmology. “It’s easy to be cynical and think bureaucrats are too comfortably removed from the frontline to really want change, but clearly he does.”

“I updated my group about DM Brown’s comments on ways we can connect and establish a relationship with the Ministry … strategies that will truly serve the province,” said Neurologist Dr. Silke Cresswell, who works with Parkinson’s disease patients. “We’re now setting up a meeting with local leadership to address our provincial referral centre’s challenges. Our goal is to eventually develop a provincial strategy for movement disorders and Parkinson’s.”

“It was a refreshing and honest conversation, knowing the constraints of the political cycles and the many competing agendas,” wrote one physician on the event survey.

“This type of session really improves our understanding of provincial mandates that we sometimes miss in our referral medicine environment,” wrote another.

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