Viva Swanson brings her trademark infectious level of energy to work each day. An advisor in Leadership Development for Northern Health’s northeast region, her work has significantly improved how people are cared for in BC’s northeastern communities, which are among the most culturally diverse and remote in the province, with residents facing daily challenges accessing health care.
Over the years, that’s meant taking on roles that often fell outside her sphere as a registered nurse and certified perinatal nurse specialist to include major project management and leadership development. But no matter the project, Viva jumps in with both feet, inspiring others to join her.
Motivational, encouraging, a can-do attitude, limitless enthusiasm – these are all words that have been used to describe Viva. Her ability to take on any project that requires her leadership, operational and collaborative skills, and her dedication to continuous quality improvement, is why her Northern Health (NH) colleagues call Viva an Everyday Champion for patient safety and quality care.
“Viva’s work, and really her soul, are rooted in Fort St. John, and she looks for opportunities to benefit others and their communities,” says Peter Martin, project leader, Workforce Sustainability, Housing and Childcare Initiatives for NH. “Viva has demonstrated dogged persistence in addressing the needs of others. She combines a love of others with a creative approach that consistently searches for opportunities to forward the initiative that she is working on.”
Throughout her three-decade career, Viva has spearheaded an array of key care initiatives in northeastern BC. Viva provided clinical support for the design and construction of the Fort St. John Hospital and Peace Villa long-term care home. She worked on initiatives that brought a better quality of care for NH’s newest parents and their families, and she took innovative approaches to increase vaccination rates for rural, remote and vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By her own admission, Viva has been blessed with an abundance of opportunities to lead challenging projects while working for an organization she describes as “continuously trying to improve the patient and family experience.”
“I try every day to be the best version of myself,” says Viva. “I’m an early adopter with a significant case of FOMO (fear of missing out)!”
She is passionate about improving the patient experience for childbearing women and people, their families, and clinical care teams. She was executive lead for NH’s Perinatal program, establishing a team approach across all disciplines and identifying regional quality improvement opportunities that would benefit NH’s rural and remote communities.
Collaboration is also critical to her successes. In 2013, Fort St. John lost 13 family physicians, leaving both prenatal and unattached patients without access to primary care other than attending the emergency department. Working with the North Peace Division of Family Practice, Viva led the implementation of a new prenatal clinic in an underutilized space in the hospital. Within two months, she had the clinic operational, opening in January 2014.
Building on that success, Viva was asked to be project lead for a similar clinic for unattached patients. She again worked with the Division, who recognized that physicians didn’t have capacity to increase services and that the emergency department was at risk of being overwhelmed. Viva and her team opened the unattached patient clinic in July 2014.
When the pandemic hit and Northern Health saw low COVID-19 vaccination rates across northeastern BC, averaging just 40% despite mass immunization clinics, Angela De Smit, NH’s Chief Operating Officer NE, knew something innovative would be needed to reach a population largely comprised of rural residents and shift workers. The idea of a drive-thru vaccination clinic was hit upon, and Angela asked Viva to lead its launch. Viva was immediately on board, and had the clinic up and running in a week and a half. They held 22 drive-thrus in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd from June to October 2021.
With more immunizations needed, the NH Vax Van was created – with Viva again leading the way. Becoming known as Viva’s Vax Van, it travelled across the northeast reaching farming communities, farmers’ markets, First Nation communities, industry camps, highway pullouts, and businesses. Viva’s commitment to creating psychologically safe workplaces in both the COVID-19 drive-thru clinics and Vax Van made staff eager to work in both.
“She worked tirelessly to get the Van organized, working long hours, weekends, and evenings, to get our staff orientated to the new clinic ideas outside of the mass clinic setting,” says Victoria MacLean, NH’s coordinator of Pandemic Response, NE, adding that without these initiatives, NH would not have reached the provincial vaccination target of 80% for all health authorities.
In her current role as a Leadership Development advisor, Viva works to develop leaders through formal coaching and team building processes. She always has a person- and family-centred approach, for both patients and staff. The latter led to the March 2023 opening of the inaugural NH daycare program for shift workers, partnering with the YMCA of Northern BC and School District 60 to create a place with extended hours for NH staff working 12-hour shifts.
“Viva is a Northern Health staff member who is well connected within the organization and is able to move things forward quickly and well,” says Angela. “She readily accepts all requests and challenges to improve patient access, care, and services.”