Former doctor envisions a healthier Penticton

Okanagan-Similkameen Healthy Living Society president hopes to establish coalition promoting healthy living

Gerry Karr

Gerry Karr

As lofty goals go, it’s right up there: make this the healthiest community in North America.

“It’s a vision,” Gerry Karr said. “A vision should inspire you.”

The retired Penticton doctor’s vision includes every major community partner in the region represented in a single coalition that will promote the joy of healthy living.

“Everybody’s doing the best they can, but they’re not collaborating.”

Karr is the president of the Okanagan-Similkameen Healthy Living Society, which had been responsible for annual fairs in Penticton. The 2012 edition was scuttled, though, due to a lack of funding and to allow the society to shift its focus to spawning the new coalition.

He hopes to have its charity status secured by the end of August and then expects member groups to gather for an inaugural meeting in September to hammer out a formal board structure.  He said the society will continue on as the coalition’s “community base,” and also get the annual fairs back on track.

The need for a heightened emphasis on preventative medicine is one the health advocate has seen up close.

As he inched towards his 2003 retirement, Karr, who specialized in the treatment of chronic kidney disease, saw an escalating number of people with multiple health conditions who were unwell, had a poor quality of life and whose treatment cost the health system dearly.

“I thought: We’ve got to do a better job upstream.”

By upstream, he means children and families, who it’s hoped will adopt a healthy lifestyle that will keep them out of doctors’ offices as they age. The coalition should also support seniors and others who want to improve their health, Karr said, “but our emphasis will be families.”

Some programs Karr envisions include utilizing local triathletes to help coach beginners, a website that will connect people with online support, and an expansion of recreational activities similar to the Penticton Steps Out walking program.

“The nice thing about the coalition is it’s going to come up with ideas that I haven’t thought of,” added Karr, a former president of the B.C. Medical Association.

Five partners that have already expressed support include the City of Penticton, Interior Health and the Penticton Indian Band, he said, but Karr hopes up to 19 agencies from across the region will eventually be represented by the coalition.

PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger said local First Nations have placed an emphasis through their health departments on a return to a leaner, more traditional diet to combat a rise in diabetes.

“We’re really pushing for people to catch salmon and get wild game like deer, moose and elk into our systems,” Kruger said, adding he welcomes the opportunity to join forces with other local governments to share knowledge.

Karr said he expects the coalition will need a six-figure budget to be effective, but anticipates that heavyweights on the board will be able to help secure grants from higher levels of government.

His society is also seeking a volunteer secretary. Anyone interested in the position can contact Karr at 250-493-5537.