Reconnection and Engagement – Island Health Patient Engagement during COVID-19
Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change” (5th century B.C.), but it could have been said today with equal accuracy.
Back in March, the B.C. government declared a provincial state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, the activities of patient partners came to a sudden halt as Island Health took additional precautionary measures to continue to assure the health and safety of patients, staff, volunteers and community. There was an invisible enemy out there, which posed a very real threat to all, and patient partners were advised that in-person volunteer opportunities had to be put on hold until further notice. This left many patient partners feeling isolated and cut adrift from the many productive activities they were involved in. No more environmental site assessments, in-person Patient Advisory Council meetings and no more personal contact with fellow patient partners or experience leaders, and more. For some, this hiatus from patient partner engagements never really had an impact. For others, this sudden request to stop participating created a sense of isolation and wondering whether they were ever valued.
One month after the provincial state of emergency, at the end of April, the process of re-engagement began. Patient Partner Lisa Ridgway reached out to the Experience Team to express both her ability and passion to walk alongside Island Health during this unpredictable time. Island Health had lost patient and family voices at a crucial time and it was important to re-engage patient partners while maintaining their health and safety.
COVID-19 Table Meetings
In response, the Experience Team collaborated with a small group of patient partners by videoconference, to explore how to reinitiate a robust partnership moving forward. This led to the development of a COVID-19 consultation table in June, with 16+ patient partners participating remotely and living within different communities on the island. These patient partners took advantage of the regular information sessions chaired by Victoria Schmid, VP, Pandemic Planning, and Executive Lead, Experience. Initially, these meetings were held every Friday morning and then moved to every two or so weeks. This has been an opportunity for patient partners to be brought up-to-date on happenings within Island Health specifically related to COVID-19 and provide input on relevant and important changes during this time. They have become re-energized and re-engaged.
COVID-19 table meetings continue today and patient partners are consulted on topics such as the Royal Jubilee Hospital trial of orange identification cards for visitor identification, long-term care visitation, the ambassador roles, and the Patient Ambassador Greeting and Engagement Tool. They have also been consulted on the Acute Care Visitor Policy and Island Health’s Framework for Essential Visits. Maggie Schulz, Patient Partner has been very involved in drafting the new framework along with Deb Harver, Project Lead – Patient Ambassador Program & Visitor Policy and Pandemic Planning; while the entire group has provided further feedback on new versions of this framework.
Patient partners have also been re-engaged throughout Island Health, and supported to participate remotely by Zoom, videoconference or phone. These engagements include participating on committees, quality councils, workstream tables and interview panels to hire senior leaders; reviewing educational literature; supporting primary care initiatives; and attending cultural safety seminars.
Thanks are due to Victoria Schmid and the Experience Team under Jana Archer’s leadership, for their very effective efforts to re-connect and engage with patient partners. Together, we will continue to build more opportunities to connect and work together during this pandemic.
The Island health team is grateful for the review of this article and feedback provided by a Patient Partner member of the COVID-19 consultation table.