Transforming care through innovation

A unique, state-of-the-art facility at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital provides innovative, life-saving care to patients dealing with vascular conditions. Physicians perform about 1,700 surgeries annually at the Northern Alberta Vascular Centre.

“It’s a pinnacle program; it’s pretty special to have,” says Steve Lucas, senior director of operations, surgery and endoscopy for Covenant Health Edmonton Zone.

The technology, he explains, delivers better imaging, is minimally invasive and results in faster recovery times for patients. The centre supports patients from across Alberta as well as the Northwest Territories, northern B.C. and Saskatchewan.

This is just one example of how Covenant uses a focus on innovation to transform care and better serve patients, residents and their families, says Covenant Health’s chief innovation officer Conny Avila. 

“As a strategic partner in the integrated healthcare system and as a service provider, we have always been engaged around innovation. We have a culture that innovates and a mission that calls us to do so.”

“When you look at our people, they have great ideas. They want to contribute to make things better and smarter.”

As chief innovation officer, Conny is focused on ensuring that Covenant’s culture of innovation continues to grow and develop. “With the current environment, it came up in discussions with our board of directors, who really challenged us, as an organization, to develop and implement a multi-year plan that would leverage our innovative culture and empower our teams to seek new and innovative opportunities.”

To foster that drive towards transformation, Covenant’s innovation portfolio was established in July to include key areas within the organization: the Palliative Institute, the Network for Excellence in Seniors' Health and Wellness and the Covenant Research Centre. This work will help support the province’s vision for healthcare transformation and provision of the highest quality healthcare services to Albertans.

“This means we are able to respond nimbly and work with multiple stakeholders such as government, policymakers, change agents and decision makers to play a bigger role to shape health care in Alberta and beyond,” says Conny.

She adds that the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for Covenant teams to be even more creative and innovative in how they treat and care for patients, residents and their families.

At St. Mary’s Hospital in Camrose, the early supported discharge (ESD) rehabilitation team pivoted during the pandemic to expand its model of care to support patients experiencing long COVID-19 symptoms.

The new care model, which began taking patients in October, aims to reduce the likelihood of readmission and rehospitalization, since patients are being supported virtually and in person in their home environment, says Dana Norton, unit manager of rehabilitation and respiratory services.

“This will be the first time the ESD model of care is applied to the COVID-19 recovered population in the province.”

Another innovation that is transforming how we care for those in need is the Community Geriatric Psychiatry program, which conducted a pilot project to test a home health monitoring solution system for older adults with mental illness living in the community. The pilot leveraged technology using tablets, phones, Skype and Zoom to monitor patients’ physical and mental health.

Program manager Stan Preston says the pilot provided substantive data showing that virtual consults are just as effective as in-person visits. The project, he adds, has paved the way for clinicians to implement telephone and virtual follow-ups with some of their patients. Some clinicians have adopted a hybrid model of care comprising 80 per cent in-person visits and 20 per cent virtual. “We are able to serve more people and provide the same quality of care.”

Conny says there is an urgent need to reimagine how we care for our seniors’ population.

“When you look at our spread of services, seniors are the largest population we are serving. We care for over 24,000 seniors and serve thousands more each day in hospitals, clinics and independent living communities across Alberta.

“It became really evident when COVID-19 hit that it was seniors who were most affected across Canada. So we got together with our partners and stakeholders and said, ‘We need to roll up our sleeves and do what is right.’”

This experience gave rise to CourAGE: Action for Better Aging, a collaborative initiative with Toronto-based SE Health. The goal is to develop a bold and practical roadmap for change to deliver more effective and patient-centred care, not just within Alberta but on a national level.

“At the end of the day, innovation to me is about contributing value,” says Conny. “Are we contributing value within the system, within the Covenant family, to the caregiver, to the family? Because if we are, then we are innovating because we’re changing things for the better.”

And that quest to continually improve does not stop. Steve says his surgical team is constantly seeking new ways to innovate and add value to the healthcare system.

“We are not satisfied with the status quo and are always looking at opportunities to improve outcomes while ensuring that patient safety and satisfaction are a top priority. We often have work underway that has the chance to transform the system, ultimately maximizing the wellness of the patients we serve.” 

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