Patient and family advisors were front and centre to launch a Safety Alert System at Lloydminster Hospital, the pilot site for this initiative in Prairie North Health Region.
Margaret Petrie and Jenice Ward, along with Jenice’s son Gaven, shared their patient experiences to open manager training sessions about the new system.
The Safety Alert/Stop the Line (SA/STL) strategy is a provincial initiative that is designed to build a safety culture and make health care environments safer for patients and providers. It encompasses processes, policies, and behavioural expectations that support patients, staff, and physicians to identify and fix potentially harmful mistakes in the moment, or to Stop the Line and call for additional help to restore safety.
The Safety Alert System stresses the value of everyone speaking up when they sense something is not right. The stories shared by Margaret, Jenice and Gaven illustrate why this is so important.
Margaret’s husband passed away while in hospital in 2015. She has been a patient and family advisor with Prairie North since, inspired by her family’s negative experience to help effect change for other patients and families.
People need to understand that they have the right – both staff and family or patients – to say ‘You know what, we need more of an explanation of what’s going on here, because we don’t really know.’ I think that is so important, and that’s something that I felt was missing.” – Margaret Petrie, patient and family advisor, Prairie North Health Region
Because of a lack of open communication, Margaret says, “things progressed, rather than came to a stop. If that changed, it would benefit everyone.”
Seven year-old Gaven told a story about seeing his family physician due to a suspected bladder infection. “The doctor, when he did the check-up, he never wore any gloves or washed his hands. After, he went onto his computer without washing his hands. I told my mom, ‘That’s gross!’” Gaven’s mom, Jenice, wonders why she didn’t say anything to the physician.
“I don’t know. Did I not want to embarrass him? I’m still not quite sure. I knew it was an awkward situation, and it became more awkward as I stayed silent. When my son can say, ‘Mom, that was wrong,’ you know you need to speak up.”
Jody Mayer is the director of Prairie North’s Quality Improvement Program. “The common thread between those two stories is a fear of speaking up when we sense something is wrong. Maybe we don’t want to be a bother, we’re worried we may be wrong, or we don’t want to offend a health care provider or employee,” says Jody.
“That fear or discomfort is often shared by health system employees, as well! The Safety Alert System is meant to take the fear away and empower staff, patients and families to speak up, and we promise to say ‘thank you’ when you do.”
In reviewing Safety Alert System communication material, patient and family advisor Jenice noticed right away that saying thank you to a person who raises a safety concern is a key part of the process.
“Knowing someone’s response to a concern will be ‘thank you,’ for me as a patient, it gives such validation. I would feel more comfortable next time bringing forth those concerns,” says Jenice. “When a situation is not safe for us or our loved ones, we can speak our truth and not worry about hurting someone’s feelings or feeling awkward or embarrassed.”
Photo: Patient and family advisor Jenice Ward and her son Gaven.