Engaging with partners to improve health care

When Michael Burgess decided he was at the stage of his life where he wanted to give back, his sister, who is a nurse at the Misericordia Community Hospital, pointed him in the direction of the Covenant Partner program.

“I was excited to have the opportunity to make a difference in the patient experience,” says Michael.                                           

Covenant Partners are volunteers from the community who want to make a difference in health care. They contribute their experiences and insights to how services are planned, delivered, evaluated and improved at Covenant Health. They may work with a program or site, like a hospital or long-term care facility, or participate in councils, committees or focus groups.

Michael brought not only his own experience with the healthcare system to the program but also the experience of his nephew, who spent 10 years in and out of the hospital, either on the psychiatric ward or recovering from severe addictions. Michael was a source of support for his nephew and unfortunately saw some things he disagreed with in the system. He gained a different perspective on what it would be like if he were incapable of speaking up for himself. But he is quick to point out that sometimes it is difficult to see an issue within the healthcare system when you are working in it yourself.

Michael Burgess is a Covenant partner.

The Covenant Partner program was an ideal fit for Michael because it allowed him to provide the viewpoint of someone who was not working in health care.

Michael has been able to bring value to many different parts of the healthcare system. Since starting with the program in 2019, he has been involved in completing an accreditation consultation, reviewing a patient safety poster and putting together a Covenant Partner orientation handbook. He is currently volunteering as a user tester for the Covenant Health website redesign project.

Throughout the last almost three years, Michael has only grown more convinced of the value of the program.

“I really appreciate the initiative that Covenant has taken to have people be partners,” he says. “I think it is really important that voice is heard. If we can improve the patient or resident experience, then that serves the community.”

From the organization’s perspective, leaders like Erin Meikle, a program manager in ambulatory services rehabilitation medicine, know firsthand the benefits the Covenant Partner program brings. As the project lead for the opening of the stand-alone intravenous (IV) therapy clinic at the Misericordia hospital in June 2021, she requested a Covenant partner join the project team. The partner’s involvement included giving feedback on a patient brochure for the clinic, such as the use of patient-friendly language and information that was missing.

When the partner took a tour of the clinic space, she suggested the IV therapy chairs be numbered so when patients check in, they have an assigned seat. This suggestion was implemented before the clinic opened and has worked out wonderfully, says Erin. It has proved invaluable when patients or their designated support persons have to step out.

The partner also suggested that the Wi-Fi information be included on a poster for the patients, who may have to spend a great deal of time in the clinic, says Erin.

“She also shared with staff during orientation about her patient care experience and things that were important to her and things we need to think about in terms of making it a positive experience.”

Erin Meikle is a leader liaison in the Covenant Partner program.

For Erin, the program will be on her radar in the future as her experience has reiterated the importance of including patients and families when planning and implementing quality and service improvement initiatives. Having this program helped support the clinic’s ambulatory accreditation survey process since the standards all have a very patient- and family-centred approach, she says. And it fits well with other methods of engaging patients and families, including using surveys and asking questions of patients and families when they are in the clinic.

“We engage patients in many ways, but with this program, I can request someone to sit on a committee and provide that patient lens... they onboard them and make sure they are the best match,” says Erin. “I think it is wonderful that Covenant Health has this program for managers to access.”

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