I met Todd Loewen in 2010 on day one of the TransRockies. It was a wet day, and as we made our way down a very slick Hyper Extension he made sure I was okay as I narrowly escaped many a crash. It was
my first mountain bike race, and knowing two Fernie doctors were close by eased my anxiety, especially after having spent the two years previous dealing with a painful back injury.
As it happens in small towns like Fernie, shortly after this event I began to realize Todd’s extensive involvement in the community… as a mountain biker, parent, soccer coach, fundraiser and in numerous other ways. Now, ten years later it comes to no surprise to learn of the additional hats he wears through his role as a physician.
Having lived in Fernie for the past 23 years with his wife and four children, Todd tells me over zoom that he “got into health care to help others, especially those less fortunate. I had some of my own
misfortune with injuries so was exposed to it early on, which created a real desire to pursue it.”
As the lead of the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice, Todd was involved in a discussion a couple of years ago around the primary care network. Where were the gaps? One thing that came to light and was high on the list was chronic pain. “There was a lack of access to specialists’ advice and a team of experts who could support them, such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, and RMTs. There wasn’t a model, no coordinated approach of how to support someone in a team-based way,” Todd explains. “We wanted to bring these pieces together, and then bring it together as a community. To support the person, and the care givers. Together we can work to address the complexity around chronic pain.”
Through funding, they were able to hire Charlie Sawatzky as the Chronic Pain Project Manager for the East Kootenay Division of Family Practice and create a team of local specialists to develop programs to improve physician knowledge. In February, they hosted a two-day conference in Fernie which provided educational opportunities for both physicians and providers, as well as a free public seminar which allowed residents and the community to learn more and to ask questions.
“It was really well-received,” Todd says. They have also initiated programs for those dealing with chronic pain, some focusing on movement and others on understanding cognitively what is going on. “These are ongoing programs people can attend, but patients sometimes have trouble attending these things.” They came to the conclusion that in order to continue, they needed to create a position to coordinate providers, receive referrals for helping with patients and to direct them in the right direction. This coordinating role was given to a local social worker, Lois Elia who the team felt would be a great fit between physicians and health care professionals, who would also have access to and knowledge of funding to support those in need.
Talking with Todd, I shared with him my own journey with my injury and pain, and how lost and alone I sometimes felt. We agreed that it is a needed and excitingaddition to what is already on offer in our community.
“We want all private providers to be engaged and to work together. We have such a huge group of great providers - we are so lucky in the Elk valley with the calibre and skills of the professionals here,” Todd adds.
Like most things this spring, COVID-19 slowed their progress, but “it is still alive and we are committed to keeping it going. We aim to get back at it and to support people as best we can with whatever COVID restrictions we have.”
Todd has been involved in primary care changes in our region and through his role is aware of opportunities for different projects. He has also received training around physician leadership, which has
undoubtedly been an asset to this project. But Todd is the first to say this is a group effort with many working to ensure there is continued collaborative support for those dealing with chronic pain in the Elk Valley.
“As family doctors we all see the need. The money was there, and we didn’t want to see the opportunity be missed. A lot of people suffer from chronic pain. We have a long ways to go to fine-tune this, but want to encourage the community to keep providing feedback, both positive and negative. We are open to improving.”
Thank you, Todd and everyone involved. This is undoubtedly going to be a fantastic resource for many residing in the Elk Valley. If you’re interested in learning more or are in need of support, please visit painbc.ca/elkvalley.
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? When I first came here was as a family practice resident, in 1994.
2. Who did you first meet? Dr. Forrest who I worked with as a resident.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? Wow, there’s some nice mountains here besides Coast mountains.
4. What keeps you here? Community and the amazing environment, both physical and work wise. They are all awesome.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie pastime? Ya, I love skiing.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Well, you know what I love having all four seasons. Vancouver was rainy season and summer. Here we get full on summer, fall, winter and spring.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? With a robust, stable economy that can balance some more slow growth with environmental stewardship.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Exercising after work so that my mental health is tuned in before I reconnect with the family.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. That I was dumb enough to do the TransRockies twice.
10. Quote to live by: While striving for your destination, remember to enjoy the journey!