lessons from the stollery


I had the good fortune this week to visit my friends at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.  I worked there for four years as their Family Centred Care Consultant, and there is a piece of my heart that remains wrapped up there.  At their Fall Barbecue last Sunday, I was thrilled to see all the new families now involved with their Family Centred Care Network, and was honoured to receive recognition as a Family Centred Care Champion.

Six years ago, I was one of five family members who lobbied senior management to establish a Family Centred Care Council.  When the stars all aligned, and we had a champion senior administrator on our side, families participated in hiring Heather Mattson McCrady as the Manager of Family Centred Care.  Through Heather’s wise leadership, her portfolio grew and evolved.  The Stollery now has an active Council, a huge Network, a strong NICU Family Advisory Care Council, peer support programs, a multitude of speaking opportunities for families to motivate, educate and inspire staff with their family stories, and family participation in capital planning and other senior level committees.  I now see them engaging youth who have been past patients at the hospital, and sharing their learnings with the adult health care world.

How have they gotten so far in five years?  I think it has to do with many factors:

  • a dedicated group of family volunteers
  • strong support from the highest level of leadership at the hospital
  • gentle guidance from Heather, who believes in a collaborative model, and bridges relationships between staff/physicians and families
  • an openness to hire paid staff who are family members
  • a constant celebration of successes, and building on small successes to create bigger ones

During my time there, Heather gave me a gift, and that’s this:  she taught me about the art of listening.   She has an amazing listening presence, and was a wonderful role model for me. Having a listening presence is the most important factor when it comes to implementing family centred care.  You have to be willing to listen to the family voice at all levels in the organization:  at committees, Councils, interview panels, and at the bedside.  You must commit to not dismissing that voice when it says something that is hard for you to hear.  Families aren’t cheerleaders; we are trying to make sustainable change in a flawed health system to make the experience better for our children, and for the generations of children that follow them.

Really, the introduction of patient and family centred care initiatives is about change management.  There has to be a willingness to try again, even if previous attempts have failed, and that can be a risky thing for conservative leaders.  The hospital has to demonstrate a commitment of meaningful engagement to families, for we can sniff out tokenism from a mile away.   Hospital staff have to reach outside their hospital walls to collaborate with families on their own turf.

None of this is easy, and it isn’t without bumps and growing pains.  However, the rewards are huge:  increased satisfaction, improved outcomes, better relationships between staff and families.  I am so very proud of the work that has been done at the Stollery.

Patients and families are ready to speak up to improve the health system.  If you are interested in engaging the patient voice in your organization, ask yourself this one basic question:  are you willing to listen?  

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