This award was formally named “Staying Healthy”. Our Excellence in Quality category names changed in 2020 to reflect the updates to our BC Health Quality Matrix. Visit our Categories and Criteria page to find out more.

Nanaimo’s John Barsby Wellness Centre is the first multidisciplinary health and wellness centre on Vancouver Island that is located in a high school. It helps youth in a community with nearly double the provincial average of children living on income assistance, high rates of childhood vulnerability indicators, and in which physicians and advocates report that youth experience greater difficulties in accessing health services. Through the Centre, students are connected to the right support and prevention services, making them less likely to end up in the emergency room or fall through cracks in the health care system.

The Wellness Centre team
The Wellness Centre team

Young people often don’t seek out health care providers when they have health concerns. They may lack transportation, fear social stigma, worry about bumping into someone they know, or worry that a doctor may reveal things to their parents. They often lack the understanding and awareness to navigate our siloed health care system, and disengage when they find it too confusing. The John Barsby Wellness Centre helps overcome these barriers.

Students in grades 8 to 12 at John Barsby Community School get easy access to multi-disciplinary health services that they themselves identified as necessary. They can see nurses, family doctors, a social worker, mental health counsellors, and others. The Centre is located in a safe, convenient, and comfortable setting: a converted classroom that students helped to design.

Compared to the school’s overall student body, those who visit the Centre are three times more likely to rate their health as poor. They are twice as likely to report four or more visits to a family physician or nurse practitioner within the past six months, 1.6 times more likely to be under the care of a counsellor, twice as likely to consume recreational drugs, and 1.6 times more likely to regularly consume alcohol.

After 18 months of planning, researching, building relationships with partners, getting community support and sourcing funds, the wellness centre opened in September 2015. Early evaluation results after its first year indicate it is improving the health and lives of youth in Nanaimo.  As of October 2016, 1051 youth have accessed services (including follow-up appointments). This included 336 sexual health visits, 122 mental health visits, 242 GP encounters and 24 counsellor encounters.

The Centre’s team has a weekly huddle where they talk about the most vulnerable youth they’ve seen (with the students’ permission) and how to best support them. Students have received support for: undiagnosed learning disabilities; adolescent pregnancy; sexual, physical and emotional abuse; and suicidal thoughts. A teen may wander in to discuss a sore throat and then introduce the topic of birth control, or visit the clinic for a knee injury and wind up talking to a doctor about a mental health problem. Some patients can be referred to partners outside the clinic, such as addiction counsellors and Child, Youth and Family Mental Health Services.

After their visits, over 77% of surveyed students agreed the Centre helped them manage their health. Just fewer than 50% miss less school by virtue of having this service available to them, and over 70% have established healthier habits.

The program boasts an incredible number of partners from across the health, education and community services sectors:

  • School District 68
  • Island Health
  • John Barsby Community School students and parents
  • Nanaimo Division of Family Practice
  • Child/Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative (a partnership of Doctors of BC and Ministry of Health)
  • Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • First Nations Health Authority
  • UBC Family Medicine Residents
  • Local GPs
  • Pediatricians
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Vancouver Island University
  • Snuneymuxw First Nation
  • Ministry of Children & Family Development
  • RCMP

The Centre recently opened for the 2016-17 school year, as sustainability is secured through Island Health’s contribution of staff time and sessionals for doctors. Its sponsorship will likely be used towards creating a wellness centre in another secondary school.