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.
Whenever Delee Cranston goes to her favourite sandwich shop, she immediately feels a sense of calm. Why? Because the staff wash their hands.
“Not only do they wash their hands, they make sure I notice they’ve washed their hands,” she said.
This seemingly small but important act not only keeps customers safe, said Cranston, it assures them that the business values the customer’s safety, too.
Delee Cranston sanitizes her hands at Moose Jaw Hospital.
Handwashing is important to Cranston. For the past eight years, she’s been plagued by antibiotic-resistant infections. She suspects she picked up the initial infection at the hospital, after undergoing a major surgery. Neither the doctor nor the resident who examined her surgical site appeared to have washed their hands before touching her incision.
“I don’t know if I got the infection at that moment or when it happened,” said Cranston. “But I wonder. I wonder if they’d washed their hands, would my life be different now?”
Cranston said, at the time, she was not comfortable asking the resident or the doctor to wash their hands.
“I was worried if I made a complaint, it would come back on me.”
That was eight years ago. Since then, Cranston, who lives with Crohn’s-like issues, has irritable bowel syndrome and has had multiple surgeries, has gradually become comfortable talking to staff when she has concerns.
Three years ago, she decided she wanted to do more than express concerns. She wanted to play a part in changing the health care system so she became a patient advisor. In this role, she talks to new staff from the patient’s and family’s perspectives and to new volunteers about ways to get involved, has participated in committees designed to improve the patient experience and taken part in improvement events.
“That’s what really sold me on becoming a patient and family advisor. I was actually listened to and had the respect of others going in. I wasn’t just a token presence. The mere fact that changes were made that week blew me away.”
One of the improvement events she participated in focused on improving the patient experience during the hospital admission process at Moose Jaw Hospital.
“As a result of that event, volunteers were assigned more responsibilities, such as giving patients their room numbers, assisting with parking, and helping patients navigate the hospital.”
She strongly urges patients and families to get involved in their care and to take part in improving the health care system.
“It can be by assisting with patient experience surveys, sitting on committees, helping in improvement events, or whatever you’re comfortable with.”
She calls on staff, too, no matter their job, to try to understand health care from the patient and family perspective.
“When we go to the hospital, we’re vulnerable. If someone asks you if you’ve washed your hands, they’re not trying to be rude. They’re asking for their own protection.
“Your attitude and behavior affects the patient. If I’m looking lost, help me find where I’m going. Meet my eye and smile. Smiling is important. When patients go into hospital, we’re vulnerable. It’s up to everybody to understand their part in making people feel welcome.”
Cranston notes that because the patient and family advisor role is new to our province, people may initially question its purpose. It’s important to understand that patient and family advisors undergo orientation and sign the same confidentiality pledge as staff and physicians, she said. Advisors, through the many functions they fulfill, play an important part in creating a patient and family-centred system.
Cranston is optimistic that the amalgamation to one authority from 12 health care regions will result in meaningful changes for patient and their families.
“One thing I hope for is that my file follows me no matter where I am. Quite often, I go to Regina where my surgeon is. If I was in an accident, I would hope they could look up my file and know what’s going on with my health at that time.”
She’d also like to eventually see a protected website where family who have the appropriate permissions can access information about their relative’s care, no matter where they live.
“If all the information is housed on one computer system, everyone – patients, families, staff and physicians – will know what everybody is saying and the direction they’re going. We’ll all be partners in care.”