When Patricia Mackey came home from a trip in 2009 with two lumps in her breast, her doctor sent her to North York General Hospital’s breast diagnostic centre for a same-day diagnosis.
“It’s kind of a jewel in the crown at North York General,” she said.
While Mackey was unfortunately diagnosed with breast cancer, she has nothing but praise for the treatment and care she received.
“They have an incredible hospital there,” she said. “The sense of kindness and grace at that hospital is not to be believed.”
Now, Mackey is part of the hospital’s new team of patient and family advisors, a program believed to be the first of its kind in the Greater Toronto Area.
So far, there are about 20 members on the team and nine of them, including Mackey, sit on an advisory council.
The advisors, who contribute four hours a month on average, are volunteers but are compensated for their parking fees. They must have had personal experience with the hospital as a patient, family member or caregiver within the last two years.
Although the advisors don’t have authority to make decisions, they help influence services and policies from the perspective of patients and their families.
While it’s still early days and the role of the advisors is still being developed, Mackey and four other advisors are already being consulted on design ideas for North York General’s new seventh and eighth inpatient floors.
She is also making a difference in other areas.
While at the hospital recently for some tests, Mackey noticed a receptionist wasn’t greeting patients and explaining that their tests would be delayed.
While it’s a small thing, Mackey plans to bring the incident to the council’s attention so it can remind employees that even little gestures can make a big difference to sick and anxious patients.
Meanwhile an advisor is participating in the recruitment and interview process as the hospital searches for a new chief of surgery.
North York General introduced the advisor program late last fall because it is committed to constantly striving to improve patient and family-centred care, hospital president Dr. Tim Rutledge said.
Although a Kingston hospital has advisors, the concept is new to the Toronto area, although other hospitals do get patients’ input in a less structured way, Rutledge said.
“I believe we are the first in the GTA to take this formal approach,” he said.
“Within Canada, I would say we’re one of the leaders in this area.”
The role of the advisors is still being developed but they will be formally included in an advisory capacity on various hospital committees, community advisory groups and staff recruitment practices, Rutledge said.
Although Mackey describes her treatment at North York General in glowing terms, she doesn’t believe she or other advisors are expected to merely pay lip service to patient concerns.
“I am a Pollyanna,” she laughed.
“(But) we’re all very different. They (advisors) have different views, different attitudes. There’s some anger that comes out, which is great. It’s not pie-in-the-sky, all fuzzy (feedback).”
Mackey said she also brings to her role the perspective of having been a caregiver of relatives who received medical care at other health care facilities.
She saw how something as simple as providing rocking chairs and allowing more natural light into patients’ rooms would have been a comfort for patients and family members.
She believes North York General officials are looking for a truthful account of what patients and their families are looking for.
“I don’t think in any way this is a glossy piece. I think they are 150 per cent behind (what we’re doing).”
Administrators are looking for the advisors to give honest opinions about hospital services, Rutledge said.
“We absolutely want to look at our warts. We want to learn from our mistakes. We don’t want to be ostriches burying our heads in the sand,” he said.
“We are absolutely committed to making changes and making things better from patients’ perspective. I’m really excited about this. I think it will make a paradigm shift. I think it will make a real difference.”