Patients, clients, residents and family members from across the province are playing a pivotal role in co-designing the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to ensure the health care system is centred on patient needs. Engaging patients and families as active partners in the key areas of governance, strategy and policy as well as wherever care is delivered is our goal. In the coming weeks, as part of SHA’s one-year milestone, we are featuring the stories of patient and family advisors who are actively involved in the improvement of the health care system. They discuss why they got involved, how they are engaged, and their hopes for the SHA’s future.
Barbara Martin, pictured with grandson Nicholas.
Barbara Martin is hopeful about the possibilities of patients and family members playing a growing role in transforming the health care system.
“I can tell you that we are being heard. We are making a difference,” said Martin, a Saskatoon resident who became a patient advisor this fall.
“We need to be collaborative to move forward. It’s going to get more exciting.”
As a patient advisor, Martin is a member of the palliative care committee, is involved in a College of Nursing study, and is meeting with medical students to share how it feels to be a patient.
She feels fortunate to understand the health care system from the inside out. Not only has she been a patient and supportive family member, she had a career in health care. She worked in acute care and in long-term care as an administrator, and in business as joint owner of a pharmacy. She served three years on the board of the former Gabriel Springs Health District, two of those years as chair.
Over the years, Martin said she’s seen encouraging developments – the evolution of the nurse practitioner role, the implementation of the midwifery program and Saskatoon’s clinic on wheels are some examples.
Barbara Martin, pictured with granddaughters Kate (left) and Abigail.
“When the system works, it works, but there are opportunities to improve it.”
She’s optimistic about the potential for improved service delivery as a result of provincial amalgamation into one health care system, noting that the system used to operate as one a few decades ago. How will things be different this time? She hopes it will result in better care for mental health and addictions patients, enable nurse practitioners and pharmacists to work to the full scope of their practice and result in a more cohesive primary health care system.
“I’d love to see the home care piece really strengthened so that we could truly deliver care when it’s needed, and not when it’s scheduled.”
Martin said all of us – patients, families, staff and physicians – need to do more if we want a truly patient- and family-centred system.
First, patients: she advises them to take responsibility for their own care if they aren’t already.
“We need to look at ourselves and our own knowledge. We need to take some ownership and get a family doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, go online to see which doctors are accepting new patients. If you don’t have a computer, or your area doesn’t offer that service, call clinics and ask if they have openings. Ask friends and family for possibilities. I think the family doctor piece is a central part of your whole story.”
An important part of taking ownership, she said, is learning to advocate for yourself.
She recounts a story about her mother, who knew she had an allergy to Demerol, but allowed hospital staff to give her the medication because “she didn’t want to bother anybody.”
“You think you weren’t bothering everybody when you were vomiting every 15 minutes? If you can’t advocate for yourself, you need someone there with you.”
She strongly encourages patients and families, especially those who are able and feel there are gaps in the system, to get involved. “If you have something to give you should give.”
Second, staff and physicians. She asks health care providers to ask themselves if they are truly accountable for the work they provide.
“If everybody had to sign their name to the job they did, what a difference it would make. ‘This floor was washed by Jocelyn’ and ‘This sandwich was made by Barbara.’ That would inspire team work throughout the system.”
Health care providers need to ensure they educate the public about the available services, show respect for the patient’s level of knowledge and be thoughtful about how they talk to patients.
“We use a lot of acronyms. For the public, that doesn’t always work well. The system knows what it’s talking about, but the patient doesn’t.”
Part of acknowledging patients’ needs includes respecting their desire for privacy, especially when it comes to rooming patients on the ward. “I think it’s inappropriate to house men and women together. People need to feel safe and comfortable in order to get well.”
Staff and physicians also need to remember their mood affects those around them.
“You can tell when people like what they’re doing. They have greater satisfaction. The outcome is better. If the staff is cranky, it affects the environment around them.”
Despite her observations, Martin says this is a hopeful time for Saskatchewan and notes she’s optimistic about the direction of our health care system.
We need to celebrate the good things and know that change will take time. This is the home of universal health care, after all.”