When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged as a global health emergency in early 2020, BC Health Regulators (BCHR) took action, developing and implementing a coordinated and consistent response.
As an organization consisting of BC’s 21 health regulatory colleges, BCHR’s main objective is to build a consistent regulatory approach among the colleges. COVID-19 has put that objective to the test and amplified the need to work together on shared priorities.
“BCHR is the framework for collaboration and information sharing between the 21 regulatory bodies, and because of it, we have been able to identify opportunities where the single voice – or a consistent and aligned approach – has a better public interest outcome during COVID-19 than doing it independently and differently from each other,” says Cynthia Johansen, BCHR Chair and Registrar and CEO of the BC College of Nursing Professionals.
Soon after the first COVID-19 case was reported in BC on January 28, 2020, college registrars and staff began discussing the emerging health threat and the implications for the health professionals their colleges regulate. Regulated health professionals in BC are frontline care providers, so it was clear that the impact of COVID-19 on practice would be significant.
Registrar meetings, organized by BCHR, take place regularly. As the severity of the pandemic escalated, registrars increased the frequency of their online meetings, which helped enormously in developing a cohesive response. “Being able to share good and bad experiences so we can learn what’s working and what hasn’t, definitely for the registrars and their colleges has been very important,” says Johansen. “That’s not just about the information we’re giving to registrants about COVID-19 on our websites and other communication channels – it’s also about how we have maintained the core functions of our colleges throughout this time.”
Early in the pandemic, BC’s Provincial Health Officer (PHO) Dr. Bonnie Henry took on a leading role in providing orders and guidance to the public and health professionals. BCHR established a line of communication with the Provincial Health Office to inform the recommendations and information that each college has since communicated to registrants.
“We have connected with the PHO when we needed their guidance to ensure that the information we’re providing to registrants is aligned and accurate with directives or guidance that the Provincial Health Office needs to be relaying to people,” says Johansen.
One result of the two-way communication between the PHO and BCHR were letters to all BC regulated health professionals that Dr. Henry issued at critical junctures of the pandemic.
Johansen and communications staff at health regulatory colleges have also met weekly online and used a digital collaboration hub to share information.
These collaborative efforts enabled BCHR colleges, with expertise and direction provided by the PHO, BC Centre for Disease Control, and WorkSafeBC, to jointly develop consistent guidance for regulated health professionals to provide in-person community care during COVID-19. After tailoring the guidance for their specific registrants, colleges released guidelines on May 15, 2020 before the beginning of Phase 2 in BC’s Restart Plan.
Without BCHR, “it would have been very challenging” to craft and deliver a coordinated and consistent approach to guiding health professionals, says Johansen.
Moving forward, BCHR and the colleges will continue to closely collaborate on the response to COVID-19, and on key initiatives that support the broader shared mandate of protecting the public.
“The pandemic has reinforced the value of a strong, well-articulated regulatory framework for health professionals,” says Johansen. “During an emergency situation like a pandemic, having clear standards for health professionals enables better outcomes for patients. As a central part of BC’s health system, the 21 colleges have through this experience, affirmed the long-term value of working together in health regulation.”