| || |
|Jeannette Lye |
It has been said that “an essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” A PricewaterhouseCoopers’ survey conducted among the Times 1000 leading companies found that one of the common characteristics among the most innovative companies is that they take a balanced view of risk-taking behaviours. But a recent Conference Board of Canada survey conducted among Canadian health care executives confirmed that Canadian health care leaders have low tolerance for risk. Boards are perceived to be more risk-averse than executive teams by a fairly wide margin. As seen in the chart below, 57 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their executive teams are risk-tolerant, compared to the 37 per cent who agreed or strongly agreed that their boards are risk tolerant, a difference of 20 points.
At a recent meeting of the Centre for the Advancement of Health Innovations in Vancouver, Insite, North America’s first legal supervised injection site for drug users, exemplified the importance of adopting a balanced approach towards risks. Insite’s leaders have taken bold actions, many of which carried significant risks, to implement innovative and transformative health care services.
Insite was created to provide needed services to a population group that has suffered social stigma, abuse and social exclusion in Canada: drug-addicts. Before Insite, there were very few effective solutions to protect drug users from HIV and drug overdose but Insite has changed this reality. It offers clean injection supplies, withdrawal management support, detoxification areas and transitional recovery housing. A team of mental health workers, counsellors, nurses and physicians work with people with drug addiction to educate, intervene when necessary, plan a path to recovery and assist with re-integration in the wider community. And the results are outstanding: thirty-three per cent of Insite users are more likely to go to detox if they use the site once a week; 70 per cent are less likely to report syringe sharing, thus reducing HIV risk behaviour; and fatal overdoses within 500 metres of Insite decreased by 35 per cent after the facility opened compared to a decrease of 9 per cent in the rest of Vancouver. The benefits also extend to the heath care system and society: it has been estimated that supervised injection can save $14 million and 920 life years over 10 years due to a reduction in HIV, hepatitis and other medical interventions.
Despite these proven benefits, Insite has had to fight legal battles to prove legitimacy. In 2006, the federal government deferred the decision to extend Insite's special exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, citing a lack of evidence to support the benefits of supervised injection. In a brave demonstration of leadership, Insite’s supporters took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2011, ruled unanimously to uphold Insite's exemption, allowing the facility to stay open indefinitely. Over the past nine years, more than one million injections have taken place at Insite under supervision and with clean equipment. It is the busiest supervised injection site in the world with over 1,200 visits every day.
Insite’s leaders did not run away or gave up on their vision when the many obstacles appeared; they relentlessly focused on implementing change and appropriately and effectively managing the risks associated with a program of this nature. And these efforts have paid off: by partnering with the local health authority, Insite has been able to effectively bringing innovative health care services to marginalized populations who were previously unreachable. The program continues to work with low-income people to bring more opportunities for this hard-to-reach population to control their addictions and access effective, culturally appropriate chronic disease management and disease prevention programs. Insite’s daring leaders were not paralyzed by fear of failure. They are transforming health care services by demonstrating that the “best health care solution lies in treating all people humanely”.