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Gina MacKenzie

Provincial Director of Clinical Operations, Psychosocial Oncology Practice Leader, Counselling and Psychiatry Services, BC Cancer Agency

Cancer patients are at risk of significant mental health issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts. Through her work at the BC Cancer Agency (BCCA), Gina has made significant contributions to improving the care of patients across the province in regard to their mental health needs, ensuring that those in distress receive the counselling and support that they need.

Gina noticed that screenings for distress were not done consistently with patients, so she led a team which implemented a psychosocial screening tool for symptom distress screening at their first consultation. This initiative was soon adopted across BCCA and is in alignment with work done by national organizations. There are now over 49,000 patients in the database, allowing staff to analyze data trends and use them to develop new services such as insomnia programs and art therapy.

She also raised awareness of the reality that some patients had suicidal thoughts, at a time when there was little awareness or understanding of suicide risk among newly-diagnosed cancer patients. As a result of her efforts, patients are screened, identified, and immediately referred to Patient and Family Counselling within the cancer centres, ensuring they receive timely and accessible care. This initiative has resulted in a substantial reduction of critical patient safety events, and improved near-miss reporting and follow-up.

Patients who live in rural or remote settings or face other barriers to accessing face-to-face counselling are particularly vulnerable due to their isolation. To increase their access to counselling, Gina championed the implementation of pan-Canadian, professionally-facilitated online support groups through Cancer Chat Canada. To date, over 100 online support groups have been implemented and more than 20 facilitators have been trained across the country.

Realizing that data on the status of patient symptoms and health status allows interventions to be tailored and targeted to best meet their needs, Gina led her team in piloting the Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT) outcomes project. This project is the first of its kind in oncology in Canada, and uses feedback from patients along with intervention data to assess if the care provided is having an impact on how well patients and their families are feeling and coping.

The success of this pilot project has led to a planned expansion across all six provincial cancer centres. It has also been shared nationally at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology annual national conference. This is innovative, patient-centred work that will positively influence best practices and patient outcomes across Canada.