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Putting patients first in emergency planning for natural disasters

BC Cancer - Kelowna's Emergency Response Fire and Flood team received the inaugural Teamwork and Collaboration in Action award last fall.
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​John Larmet (right), senior director, regional clinical operations, BC Cancer - Kelowna, accepts the Teamwork & Collaboration in Action award with regional medical director Dr. Ross Halperin. With them at last November's inaugural BC Cancer Excellence Awards dinner, from left: Dr. Shallen Letwin, former VP of regional operations; Dennis McKintuck, member of BC Cancer's Network of Patient & Family Partners; Sarah Roth, president & CEO, BC Cancer Foundation; Dr. Malcolm Moore, former president, BC Cancer. Photo by Paul Willinsky, BC Cancer.

​The BC Cancer Excellence Awards give us an opportunity to shine a light on some of the inspiring people and teams at BC Cancer. Nominations will be accepted from June 3 to August 16, 2019. During this nomination period for the second annual BC Cancer Excellence Awards, we’re taking an occasional look at one of 2018’s winners. Go to for more information and to submit a nomination today.

BC Cancer - Kelowna's Emergency Response Fire and Flood team received the inaugural Teamwork and Collaboration in Action award last fall. The members of BC Cancer - Kelowna's Emergency Response Fire and Flood team are John Larmet, Ross Halperin, Karen Yendley, Frances DeWolff, Allison Filewich, Barbara Campling, Francois Bachand, Judi Piper-Wallace, Agnes Sauter, Marco Carlone, Randy Goncalves, Lori Sameshima, David Greenshields and Sylvi LeBlanc.

We spoke with BC Cancer - Kelowna’s John Larmet, the senior director of regional operations, and Dr. Ross Halperin, the centre’s regional medical director, on their thoughts on the meaning of the award and their team's work. Their Emergency Response Fire and Flood team worked collaboratively to prepare the centre, and the region, in providing superb patient care in case of natural disaster. 

You won BC Cancer’s inaugural Teamwork and Collaboration in Action award for all the work you did around the Kelowna floods and wildfires in 2017 – an emergency response team prepared to ensure that your patients would continue to receive quality care without interruption. How challenging was that work?

Kelowna’s team came together in haste to focus directly on the situation at hand. Our team’s focused attention to the issue was truly remarkable. On top of our usual clinical work, our team demonstrated an unwavering commitment to emergency planning.

We know you had to work with many external partners, such as Interior Health, to make sure things would go smoothly. Can you talk a bit about those relationships as a key component of cancer care?

Cancer care in B.C. is delivered through matrixed partnerships. Not only did BC Cancer work in collaboration with Interior Health, our team also worked with Northern Health, Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC), City of Kelowna, Canadian Red Cross, and all of our other BC Cancer family of comprehensive cancer care sites across the province. Many members of the larger BC Cancer family came together in a time of need and many individuals assisted in key roles, as a part of our virtual Emergency Operations Centre.

It seems that Kelowna, and the entire Okanagan area, has these natural risks year after year. Does your plan stand up well into the future? And what have you learned from doing it?

BC Cancer - Kelowna’s plan is fluid and well-equipped to respond to varying threats. However, the biggest learning is that in times of need there’s the provincial government and municipal partnerships that enable the continuity of care. We also learned that effective operational emergency planning requires as a foundation clinical decisions regarding the required patients on treatment’s need to continue therapy without risk to their outcomes, then the same information for patients awaiting treatment, awaiting consult and booked for follow-up care. We learned to start the planning for the most urgent, then once those were addressed move on to the next most acute risk. This enabled us to focus our work on operational emergency planning effectively.

The criteria for this award states that “the team is a model for others on how to work together to make a difference.” What can you say about your team and its ability and willingness to collaborate to constantly improve patient care?

Our team demonstrated unwavering commitment toward person-centred care. Everyone on the team – management, clinicians – went over and above to do what was needed for patients and families.

The Excellence Awards were created to shine a light on the people and team who are focusing on delivering world-class, patient-centred cancer care. What did it mean to you and your team to win the award, and why should people be excited about it?

Our team was honoured to be the inaugural recipient of this award, and it was humbling to receive this recognition. Often, clinical teams excel with an acute focus on patient care delivery, but stepping up and out of our day-to-day service delivery is what really stood out. Our team’s dedication to patients and each other was a marvel to behold, and it’s gratifying to see it recognized.

For more information on the BC Cancer Excellence Awards, go to

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