For the first time in more than two decades, Island Health has a new chief medical officer.
Dr. Reka Gustafson officially took over the job this week, replacing Dr. Richard Stanwick who retired in January after 21 years on the job.
She is already a familiar face to many Vancouver Island residents, serving as Dr. Bonnie Henry’s second in command throughout the pandemic.
“I’m really, really delighted to be here. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often,” she said Thursday.
Throughout her career, Dr. Gustafson, and her colleagues changed how HIV and AIDS are managed in B.C., with the best outcomes in the country. She was also at the forefront of B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Dr. Gustafson said her priorities include managing the Island’s toxic drug crisis, the number one cause of death for young adults.
“We have seen year after year that either completely unregulated market, or over-regulated, and criminalized system, both of them maximize harm. in order to minimize harm of the toxic drug crisis, or minimize the harm of toxic drug use. We need care, we need treatment, and we need a regulated supply.”
Jordan Cooper, director of services, Our Place Society said he’s relieved to hear Dr. Gustafson’s priorities on the overdose crisis.
“It’s bad out here. and people are overdosing, and they are losing their lives. We are doing the best we can here to mitigate those things. But it’s certainly welcome. It needs to be a priority.”
Cooper said treatment is critical.
“When people come to us we have to be able to move them through that. And it goes beyond harm reduction. So we’re looking at that as part of this. people have access to that.”
For now, Dr. Gustafson says she is going to spend some time getting familiar with her new home, and job.
“I’m so looking forward to getting to know the communities of the Island from south to north.”