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Home is where the heart is for Bella Bella’s Gary Housty

The son of a commercial fisherman who was expected to carry on the family tradition, Gary Housty chartered a different course for himself starting at the age of 16 when he left the safe confines of Bella Bella (pop. 1,500) for Victoria to complete high school.

Coming back to Bella Bella

It was a seminal moment that would have a profound impact on his future. His journey would take him through nursing school, to a busy urban ED and an Arctic outpost. But the call of family – specifically the birth of a son – drew the Registered Nurse back to Bella Bella, where Gary is now the Manager of Clinical Services at RW Large Memorial Hospital and Bella Bella Medical Clinic.
Since taking on the challenging role last April, Gary has proven to be an invaluable presence in the small Heiltsuk First Nations community.
“A day does not go by where I am not thankful Gary has taken on the role of Manager Clinical Services at RW Large Memorial,” says Michel Bazille, Director, RW Large Memorial Hospital and Bella Coola General Hospital. “His consistently strong leadership provides the stable platform for the staff to go forward with the many initiatives around frontline nursing care as well as managing the facility on a daily basis.”
VCH News recently caught up with Gary for a Q&A to find out more about his career in health care and what it’s like to go home:

How did you get into nursing?

Over the years of working on my dad’s boat alongside uncles and cousins who did the same, I became fascinated with the biology of the sea, particularly with filleting fish, uncovering blood, organs and bones! My mother was a passionate community worker advocating furiously for individuals, families, and community. My parents were my first teachers and taught me much about family, culture and Heiltsuk ways. The show “ER” really piqued my interest to pursue a nursing career and since then I haven’t looked back.

What was it like to leave your community as a teenager to study in the city?

My family, particularly my late grandfather, instilled the value of seeking higher education. At 16 I moved to Victoria to complete high school. This was a challenging time as I had never lived in the city or been away from my family and community. This move had a profound but positive impact on my life, and I would not be where I am today had I not pursued this opportunity. Shortly after graduating I moved to Vancouver where I attended nursing school at BCIT in Burnaby. I then completed by BScN through UBC and recently received my Master of Arts in Health Leadership through Royal Roads University.

You’ve had interesting career experiences. What brought you back to Bella Bella?

Working as a Registered Nurse has been a wonderful career and has afforded me an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills, travel, and seek leadership positions. From the outset of nursing school, I knew I was destined to work in a busy urban emergency department. I am extremely grateful to my VCH colleagues who have taught me skills that I carry with me throughout my work today.
After gaining invaluable experience in the big city it was time to seek adventure in Canada’s Arctic! My experience nursing in Nunavut was incredible and I’m very grateful to have visited a few remote Inuit communities.
My vision upon completing my Masters was to return to my hometown of Bella Bella. In April 2015, I commenced my position as Manager, Clinical Services for the RWL Memorial Hospital and Bella Bella Medical Clinic. My new role has been exceptionally busy, challenging, and extremely rewarding.
My wife Melissa is the Nurse Practitioner in the primary care clinic, so we are both fortunate to have rewarding careers in a community that we care for deeply. Another influencing factor to moving home was the opportunity to raise our young son Gage around family, nature and culture. This has been a wonderful positive experience for us as a new family.

What are the biggest challenges working in Bella Bella?

Our isolated location (and inclement weather) can definitely pose a challenge. We need to be innovative and take into consideration the remoteness and weather when transferring acute and high acuity patients to larger urban centres, particularly if it is after dark or there are hurricane force winds. But this is also part of the adventure of living and working in an isolated community.
Another challenge we face on a daily basis is not having the wealth of resources readily available similar to larger VCH centers. We don’t have access to allied health workers, social workers, or educators. I don’t have the option of walking down the hallway to consult with fellow Managers, Leaders, or Directors. That being said, the Central Coast team and Leadership have been incredibly supportive and they inspire me to keep my teams engaged.
At the end of the day, it is the patients, families and community that energize me to improve programing, enhance patient services, and to standardize the facility. My end goal is to positively impact patient care services and promote services to be offered in a culturally safe, culturally sensitive, and culturally competent manner to the First Nations communities served on the Central Coast.

Can you tell us about your family?

I identify myself as a Heiltsuk First Nation and was born and raised in Bella Bella. Our families are the cornerstone to our beings and provide strength and continued traditions. My first leader was my late grandfather, George Housty, Nác̓í. He was a man of honour, respect, and humility. The teachings and values he bestowed upon me significantly influence my personal values, including respect, discipline, reliability, creativity, integrity, community, humour, and personal growth.
I have two sisters, including a twin who have their own families and children. I am fortunate to be a son, brother, and uncle. Most recently I started a family of my own. I am married to my beautiful wife, Melissa, my biggest supporter, and recently we brought home our newborn son, Gage K̓vsḷs Edward Housty (K̓vsḷs means wolf in the Heiltsuk language). Gage is a blessing to have in our lives and this new adventure of fatherhood has given me a renewed sense of family, love, community and hope.

If someone were considering a move to Bella Bella to work at the hospital, what advice would you give them?

Bring your scrubs, sense of adventure, interest in learning about people and culture and most importantly, bring a Gortex jacket and rain boots! The job is rewarding, challenging and offers learning opportunities on a day-to-day basis. Not only is living on the waterfront incredibly peaceful, but accommodation is provided rent-free. Bella Bella – situated in the Great Bear Rainforest – has a wealth of ocean, channels, fiords, and wildlife to explore.

What are your favourite activities in Bella Bella?

I really enjoy exploring our beautiful surroundings, going out on the boat and taking my son to the beach where we watch eagles, whales and passing boats. Living so close to my immediate and extended families and being surrounded by Heiltsuk culture and tradition is immeasurable and I’m extremely grateful.
SOURCE: Home is where the heart is for Bella Bella’s Gary Housty ( )
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