After nine years as top doctor for the Nanaimo region, and 30 years in similar roles, Dr. Paul Hasselback is set to trade in his stethoscope for retirement.
Hasselback took on the role as medical health officer for central Vancouver Island in September 2011 and has seen a number of health-related crises, including high incidents of opioid overdose and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hasselback has spoken to City of Nanaimo councillors about supervised consumption sites to address the opioid crisis over the last few years, and he said it is one of a multitude of issues. Nanaimo was hit early and hard by the overdose crisis, Hasselback said, but it has developed many of the strategies for response that were picked up in other communities.
“We have an overdose prevention site, which at this point in time is fitting things together,” said Hasselback. “We’ve addressed the zoning bylaw issues, except for one particular component, and supervised consumption … it’s brought forward and now highlighted the need to change our policy and our approach to substances and not sort of try to put it in one spot or hope that it will go away if it’s just in one corner, and that we don’t have to look at it. It’s everywhere and our response has to be recognizing that it’s everywhere.”
Instances of COVID-19 on the Island have been low (133 confirmed cases as of Wednesday) and Hasselback said “we’re very lucky to be living in B.C.”
“We’ve had the leadership, the choices, the opportunities, have acted appropriately and I honestly hope that people in B.C. really recognize how lucky we have been to be here and to have benefited from a response that happened in this province,” said Hasselback.
In terms of what he would like to see the next medical health officer carry on, Hasselback said there are still some big issues.
“It’s not just one person here, it’s a whole organization,” said Hasselback. “I think there’s a recognition that even under the COVID banner here that not everyone had same access to health care or health services. That there were those that were being left behind in our social systems and now’s the opportunity to actually begin to rectify some of that.”
Hasselback gave a definitive “no” when asked if the crises were considerations on his decision to retire.
“This is a long-term plan that I’ve had,” said Hasselback. “Quite specifically about 30 years and it just so happens that it comes at a lull in some activity, after one crisis and I think everyone anticipating something else to happen and I think some fresh eyes and fresh individuals are actually going to be a good thing for all of us.”
Island Health said an announcement of Hasselback’s successor would be forthcoming.