CEO Blog

October 14, 2022

Tuk'd In "Big.... expansive.... remote."

By Renato Discenza

Map of Renato's roadtrip

I was staring out in awe and humility over the Arctic Ocean on a sunny Saturday morning this past August and smelling the salty air looking out towards what would be the fabled North Pole somewhere, still many hundreds of miles away.

I was covered in mud from head to toe, tired from two weeks of nonstop motorcycling over 5,400 km through some of the most beautiful, and some of the most remote, parts of Canada, but I was deeply satisfied. Even though I have travelled by motorcycle in six continents and in various landscapes, Canada still takes my breath away.

I finally nailed a solo motorcycle trip to Tuktoyaktuk and the Arctic Ocean. Since going to the South American limit of navigable roads in Ushuaia three years earlier, I had added a trip to the ‘Tuk’, to my bucket list. I joked I would not rest until I got ‘Tuk’d in’. The year before, on a group ride, I got only as far as Dawson City before being told entry to the Northwest Territories was not possible because of the Covid lockdown.

I planned to return and tick the trip off my bucket list as soon as possible. This time I decided to go solo and I was deeply satisfied, but also enlightened, to have completed this journey this past August.

While this trip was designed as a fun adventure to enjoy the twisty roads, mountain passes and famous gravel Dempster Highway to the Tuk, inevitably, hours alone on the bike has you reflecting on many things in life. It had me reflecting on our country.

I had hours to contemplate the great beauty—physical and social—of Canada. I experienced its grand (and sometimes frightening) vastness. I also rode through its great physical diversity. Dense urban cities, beautiful Rocky Mountain passes, cool bucolic river valleys, heavily forested woodlands, and even the world’s tiniest desert in the Yukon (yes, I used the words Yukon and desert in the same sentence!).

Our country is more socially diverse than many places on the planet. I met  7th generation Canadians whose ancestors had been in the West since the 1850s. I met new immigrants who just landed in Canada a few weeks earlier. I also was privileged to meet many people from Indigenous cultures whose families had been living here from before our written histories. 

My mind turned towards my work and  our healthcare sector. With Covid still active, headlines of emergency rooms in crisis blaring out each day and a shortage of clinicians across the country, it was hard to ignore that one of the most fundamental services to our quality of life, healthcare, seemed to be experiencing an unprecedented crisis.

Over the last decade, I have been able to observe the healthcare system as a hospital governor, an executive in an academic hospital, a CEO of multiple health network systems, and now as a CEO of a company that provides, timely and safe medications, supplies and services to the people that keep us healthy.

HealthPRO does business with members across the country in the same diverse geographies and the same diverse cultures that I experienced on my journey.

The needs of urban families in Vancouver or Calgary were often different than those of families in the northern BC town of Prince George  and sometimes totally divergent from the small clinic in the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk at the Arctic Ocean. In this hamlet I was experiencing nearly 22 hours of sunlight with twilight barely emerging before the sun rose again. The opposite phenomena, where near constant darkness was the natural state in the peak of winter, was equally divergent from my everyday experience. Lives are different in different parts of the country. But the desire to have access to quality care was ubiquitous. While the headlines of system stress are evident every day, I also was thinking of some hidden unintentional harm we are doing.

Beyond drastically different sunlight schedules, there were other phenomena that were less curious and more disturbing. The local residents told me of the 30-degree Celsius days they had experienced just a few weeks before I arrived in Tuktoyaktuk. A couple of the elders in the indigenous communities told me they had never experienced this in their memories. They also pointed to areas where permafrost could previously be counted upon to provide a solid foundation but now was subject to the whims and inconstancy of climate change.

Pingos are circular mounds of frozen sediments that range from a few metres high to more than 60 or 70 metres high. Pingos stand out in areas where permafrost is present as they rise above the boggy, flat tundra. Riding up the gravelly and sandy Dempster Highway and north of the Arctic circle, my heart sank as deep as some of these Pingos sank, when local elders told me how these beautiful structures were succumbing to the loss of permafrost and the disruption of the foundations beneath them.

Unfortunately, there were many other signs of climate impact. I was disappointed to not be able to hike the beautiful Berg Lake Trail near Mount Robson because in July, rapid glacial snow melt from the mountain wiped out the trail. It was estimated it would take two years to remediate the trail. Likewise, at the BC and Yukon border, near the Liard River, an entire section of roadway was washed out and required a bypass to allow essential supplies to reach remote communities. 

As I travelled along a part of the mighty Mackenzie River and some of its tributaries, I was dismayed to see a clear and crystal flow of water become a yellowy, bubbly, foamy trail of sludgy water that could not be construed as natural by even the most ardent climate change denier. Even the first day I arrived for the start of my two-week trek, a raging forest fire near Penticton required some quick diversions around my planned route.

Forest fires, road washouts, fluctuating temperatures are an intrinsic part of nature. However, there seemed to be widespread agreement, among the people who know best, whose ancestors have been part of the communion with this land for centuries, that the intensity and frequency of these events have been accelerating and getting worse.

It was a shock in many ways to see this beautiful land of ours being so obviously impacted by climate change. Whether you subscribe to attributing these changes to nature’s cycle, man-made, or a combination, it would be irresponsible to think that we can’t help at least mitigate our footprint on this planet.

This experience, seeing our great diverse county literally “breakout” in symptoms of a deep underlying condition of climate-induced fever was disturbing. These manifestations of climate phenomena were like the fevers and skin breakouts one might experience when getting sick… they are symptoms of deep underlying infection and disturbance to the natural order of things. Our body and our planet both react to attack in ways that are warning us of deeper, fundamental, and existential threats.

Some of the beautiful remote communities I visited are more susceptible to disruption to their delicately balanced ecosystems. The changing patterns in fishing and hunting disrupted by elk, bison, moose and fish behaving differently was seen. In trying to cope with centuries of natural cycles, their very existence was threatened.

Healthcare as an industry is the third largest contributor of environmental impact in Canada. At HealthPRO we have taken up the banner to procure goods and services for our healthcare system that seek to temper our impact on the planet

How can we allow ourselves to harm as we heal?

Therefore, we have chosen to work with leading GPOs and healthcare systems across the world to procure drugs, services and supplies for our members that helps stop and reverse the harm.

Whether it’s reducing the impact of distribution and logistics, finding ways to lessen the volume of biomedical waste in landfills, reducing the consequences of  PPE dumping, or mitigating the harmful impact of anesthetic gases, we are committed to looking for responsible solutions to help our healthcare system be consistent to its objective as a healer, not a harmer, to our health.

We are incorporating measurement and evaluations on contracts that reward genuine ESG  stewardship. We are working with government, members and suppliers to find better alternatives to ensure negative climate, social and financial impacts are reduced, reversed, or eliminated, to deliver better healthcare, sometimes known as the "quadruple aim of healthcare". We cannot ignore the externalities of these impacts by chasing the cheapest price without stretching ourselves to do better.

I also realize, as I was riding in this very part of Canada, that I could not be self-righteous in my own role. As I was marveling at the very landscape I was grieving for I too  was part of the disruption. Even my small single-cylindered motorcycle emitted carbon and impacted the environment I was looking to preserve.

I returned even more committed to the idea that we can make a difference in how we procure and secure goods and services. HealthPRO is committed to making sure our members can deliver on the quadruple aim of healthcare without being an inadvertent accomplice in hurting the planet and people we are striving to heal.

I look forward to carefully exploring more of our great remote landscapes while learning how to do it with the least impact possible, so our progeny get to experience the beauty of Canada as I have been privileged to do.