‘They challenge us to think differently’: NSHA’s patient and family advisors provide invaluable input to help improve continuing care across province

Larry Baxter, patient family advisor with the provincial Continuing Care Quality Council
Larry Baxter, patient family advisor with the provincial Continuing Care Quality Council.

Larry Baxter looked after his father for four years. He’s also been a part-time home care worker for 12 years. That experience, as well as his background working in the non-profit sector, made him an ideal candidate to be a volunteer patient family advisor (PFA) with Nova Scotia Health Authority’s continuing care team. 

Baxter sits on the provincial Continuing Care Quality Council. There are a total of 13 continuing care PFAs; two sit on the provincial quality team, while the remaining 11 sit on the quality councils for the geographical zone that they live in. Their roles are to bring the client and family perspectives to the table, helping NSHA’s continuing care team make decisions and improvements that best meet client and family needs. 

“Last year we did a priority study (of) what we saw as the things that needed to be improved or changed within the continuing care system. And we came up with a list of priorities, which serve as a guide for staff in their work and setting their operational plan,” Baxter said.

Cynthia Stilwell is the management representative on the provincial Continuing Care Quality Council. She says input from PFAs, at both the provincial and zone levels, is invaluable. 

“We have patient, family (and) community advisors embedded and participating in all levels of that quality structure. They've been able to actually help us to prioritize what kinds of quality initiatives we need to undertake,” Stilwell said.

“One provincial working group is looking at the transfer of information that happens when a person moves from one point in our continuum of care to another,” she said.

“Say, for example, a person who is receiving care in Halifax and goes to Cape Breton for the summer to the cottage – we need to transfer their care, or if they go from a hospital to the community, we need to transfer that information – these are areas where improvement leads to better outcomes for people and their families.” 

Baxter and others play critical roles as active members in the development of the social history profiles that will provide guidance to clinicians and family when transferring information from one provider to another. This valuable information helps develop meaningful people-centered care plans.

One of the benefits of having PFAs at the table, Stilwell said, is that “they make it real. They challenge us to think differently about what we're doing and why. 

“We engaged them in developing caregiver experience surveys and presentations to staff about home first initiatives. They bring a critical perspective to our work; one that is unique to their wisdom and experience. We value their perspectives on what’s working well and what needs to be improved. 

“While it can be difficult to hear about where the system is not meeting the needs of those we serve, this is exactly what we need to know in order to do better."

“As a patient and family adviser, I can continue to contribute even after my father has passed away,” Baxter said.

“I'm still associated with the Family and Friends Council at Mountain Lea Lodge where he lived. From that experience, I can connect both the personal and local to the provincial level in my role on the provincial quality council.”

If you have experience with continuing care (as a client, caregiver or family member), your perspective is important to help us make decisions that meet the needs of the individuals and families we serve. 

To learn more about volunteering to help shape the future of continuing care, please contact us at CCVolunteer@nshealth.ca.