Home Island Health Island Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Stanwick retiring at 2021 year-end

Island Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Stanwick retiring at 2021 year-end

Island Health begins search for new Chief Medical Health Officer

Dr Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Officer, Island Health
Dr Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Island Health.

Monday November 8, 2021 | VANCOUVER ISLAND, BC

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., Editor | Island Social Trends

Sometimes the quiet steady hand of reason and insight at the helm is not always recognized as a key leadership impact.

But for Island Health, that’s exactly what Dr Richard Stanwick has brought to the role, contributing to the stability of successes of Island Health in several areas of health care management on Vancouver Island, not the least of which have been long-term care and effective oversight and execution of the various approaches to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today Island Health announced that after dedicating more than 25 years of service to the population and population health of residents in the Island Health region, Dr. Stanwick will be retiring as Island Health’s Vice-President, Population Health and Chief Medical Health Officer effective December 31, 2021.

High praise from Health Minister & CEO:

“On behalf of the province, I’d like to thank Dr. Stanwick and acknowledge his contributions to Island Health and our health system as a whole,” said Adrian Dix, Health Minister. “Dr. Stanwick has played a pivotal role in keeping our community safe through our province’s two ongoing health crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and the toxic drug supply. You need tenacity to make change, and you have led with tenacity.”

adrian dix
Health Minister Adrian Dix [Nov 1, 2021].

“Richard’s passion, compassion and relentless drive to improve the health of all people we serve – and in particular his respect for and commitment to underserved and vulnerable populations – has intertwined to the point that they are just simply part of his DNA,” said Kathy MacNeil, Island Health’s President and CEO. “I am deeply grateful for all he has done to make our communities a better place to work, live and play, and Island Health a better organization through his contributions.”

The track record:

Dr. Stanwick came to B.C. in 1995 from Manitoba, where he spent five years as the Medical Health Officer for the City of Winnipeg.

Dr. Stanwick took on many campaigns over the past 25 years; first in 1995 as the Medical Health Officer for the Capital Regional District, from 1997 as Medical Health Officer for the Capital Health Region, and then since 2001 as Island Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer. Many of these campaigns faced criticism, and even opposition, when he began to advocate for change. However, as we look back now at the change over the space of time, we know these changes made a substantial improvement in population health.

“More recently – as we have faced the dual public health emergencies of the toxic drug supply and COVID-19 – Dr. Stanwick has again co-led our responses and served as a trusted voice to help people and communities understand our shared challenges, and encourage actions we can all take to protect and support ourselves, those we care for and about, and the communities we live in,” it was stated by Island Health in a release today.

COVID-19 town hall, Mitzi Dean, Sonia Furstenau, Dr Richard Stanwick, Kathy MacNeil
MLAs Mitzi Dean and Sonia Furstenau hosted a live virtual town hall on April 21, 2020 with questions about COVID-19 being answered by Island Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Richard Stanwick and CEO Kathy MacNeil, early in the pandemic on April 21, 2020. [screenshot]

It could arguably be said that residents of Vancouver Island have fared better during the most of the pandemic because of how Dr Stanwick jumped on the right things at the right time. He told Island Social Trends in a media session this year that long-term care, for example, was one area where ever single complaint was followed up on promptly (even pre-COVID); the incidence of COVID in long-term care in Island Health has overall been low and — where it did happen — was communicated with transparency and apparently handled efficiently.

Dr Henry weighs in:

“Dr. Stanwick’s well-considered, insightful perspectives, wisdom and, at just the right times, much-valued humour have made a positive and lasting impact, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic and toxic drug crisis we are currently facing, but in the many years that all of us in public health have had the honour of working with him,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s provincial health officer, in a news release from Island Health today.

dr bonnie henry
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry [Nov 4, 2021]

“It is with heartfelt gratitude that I thank him for his public service and invaluable contributions to the health of all people in our province,” said Dr. Henry.

His own style:

Regarding Dr Henry, last year in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Stanwick noted — with his usual observant, often under-stated way — about Dr Henry’s role in leading the charge against the pandemic in BC that is was “a career-defining moment”.

dr richard stanwick
Island Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Richard Stanwick addressing Sooke region health symposium, May 28, 2016 [Island Social Trends photo, then as West Shore Voice News]

Dr Stanwick has evidently never been afraid to drop a bombshell, exactly when and where it needed to be heard. In 2016 in his opening remarks at a health leadership session for developing better health care delivery in the Sooke region, Stanwick pulled out a simple statistic and made it writ large for community leaders and the media who were present: the longevity of women in Sooke was to that point the lowest of the province, and he blithely proposed it could have to do with the men. Unforgettable. And in a simple way possibly activating new understanding toward change.

Dr Stanwick took the reins this past June when a severe heat wave (the ‘heat dome’ of June 26-July 2) was reliably predicted by weather forecasters. All island media were invited onto a heat wave preparation Zoom call on June 25 (led by Dr Mike Benusic, Medical Health Officer for Central Vancouver Island) which topped the 5 pm TV newscast. It was yet another example of his ability to see a real crisis for what it was and take action, whereas by comparison the province, overall, was not given a good grade on their handling of the heat dome in which 595 people died — mostly in urban areas in the Vancouver Lower Mainland area (according to the latest report by the BC Coroners Service).

Very clearly loving his job, with a humility for the range of his impact, Dr Stanwick’s shoes will be tough to fill.

Sticking to the job:

“Right now my focus continues to be on our dual public health emergencies of the drug poisoning crisis and our COVID-19 response, and this will continue to be to be my focus until my retirement at the end of December,” said Dr. Stanwick.

“I very much appreciate the kind words I have already received and I look forward to publicly sharing some reflections on my career as we get closer to the end of December.”

Island Health going forward:

Over the next two months, Island Health will take the time to more fulsomely recognize and thank Dr. Stanwick for his extraordinary career. We will also embark on an international search for Island Health’s new Chief Medical Health Officer.

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