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Health coalition to pool talent to save lives, save money

The Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Fair was the genesis for a health coalition that'll unite the efforts of social and humanitarian groups.

By Shannon Quesnel

A retired doctor is tired of people getting sick and believes a health coalition is the answer to society's medical woes.

The Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Coalition will be made up of health groups, humanitarian agencies, school boards and government social programs. The coalition's overall goal is to make it easier for people to eat better and be healthier.

Each organization, whether it is the Salvation Army or Communities for Kids, will still be an independent entity, but if they join the coalition it will mean less overlap of services, greater chances of finding aid and creating more opportunities to do good work.

Dr. Gerry Karr said he wants to reduce the number of chronically ill people not only for their benefit but for the benefit of all. A province with fewer sick people means less money spent on health care.

The retired kidney specialist said about 70% of the province's health-care budget is spent on people with chronic illnesses. That is not good news.

“Our health care system is becoming rapidly unsustainable,” he said.

The coalition can be a solution. Karr said it will be an organization hub for all the different groups that reach out to people, groups such as the Salvation Army, Okanagan Gleaners and government social programs. If one group has fresh vegetables another group could distribute them.

Solving society's health problems has been on Karr's mind for a long time.

For years he watched patient after patient come to him with chronic kidney disease or diabetes. Many of his patients were obese, were smokers or were heavy drinkers. Sometimes they were all three.

“They also had high blood pressure, heart disease – their quality of life was the pits,” he said. “Living tragedies.”

This notion of doing something about it stuck with him after retirement in 2003.

“Even then I was thinking to myself we've got to move upstream, getting to people before they get sick, getting to people before they develop obesity, because obesity leads to diabetes, diabetes leads to kidney failure.

“I've planted in the back of my head a long time ago we have to do a better job of preventing these preventable chronic diseases.”

The first thing Karr and like-minded health professionals did was hold the Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Fair in 2008.

Karr said it was a huge success and the City of Penticton wanted more. So, Karr and associates created the Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Society. At first it was tough going. The annual fair cost a lot of money and it took effort to get dozens of health and social groups under one roof.

“We had to scrounge for funding, we didn't have charitable status, but we did get enough money to get it together,” he said. “We were sort of like the little engine that could.”

Karr wasn't satisfied. People would attend the fair, get informed on how to be healthier, but would go back to old habits.

“When people change their lifestyle suddenly people tend to drop off (the plan), so this got me thinking we really need to provide more resources for people coming to the fair. To enable them to achieve their goals and provide coaching for them. So, that's what triggered the idea of forming a coalition. But our little society didn't have the resources to do that.”

The ones who do are Interior Health, school boards, the University of British Columbia, Okanagan College, municipal recreation departments, humanitarian groups, etc.

“All kinds of organizations are out there doing good work. It's just a matter of pulling them together, providing the resources they need for maximum productivity and provide the funding for them. That's what the coalition will do.

“A big part of the problem with school districts and city agencies is they all have a mandate from higher-up to do something about promoting health but they don't have any money to do it.

“They will be invited to say, 'If only we had the resources, here is what we would like to do.' They put together a budget of what they would like to do and we'll put it into a grant application.”

The coalition recently achieved charitable status with the Canada Revenue Agency. This will help the coalition become a funding channel for the various institutions.

“You can do more working together than you can independently. Join us if you wish,” he said. “It's a no-brainer really.”

To learn more about the society and the coalition go to

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Quesnel at or call 250-488-3065.

Several women chat with Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Fair volunteers. Dr. Gerry Karr wants the benefits of the fair to last all year round.
Several women chat with Okanagan Similkameen Healthy Living Fair volunteers. Dr. Gerry Karr wants the benefits of the fair to last all year round.
News from © iNFOnews, 2013

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