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Keeping families together

Thursday April 30, 2020

  • Foundation
  • Office of Patient Experience

As isolation is becoming more widespread than ever across the country and around the globe, Southlake Regional Health Centre is working hard to ensure patients and families can stay connected.

When visitor restrictions were put in place at Southlake to protect patients and staff during the current COVID-19 pandemic, our hospital wasted no time in establishing the Patient and Family Liaisons, a team focused on making sure that patients can stay connected with their loved ones, leveraging existing technology to enhance the patient experience during this difficult time. In addition to setting up virtual visits, they also provide comfort, care and compassion for those who aren’t able to visit with family and friends, making sure the personal needs of our patients are supported.

For many patients, this team has already made a world of difference.

The care team of an elderly woman who had been receiving care in Southlake’s palliative care unit knew that she was nearing the end of life. With five adult children who live spread out across Canada, travelling to be with their mother was impossible. So the request came from a front-line worker who wanted to make sure the patient and their family had the chance to say goodbye.

Southlake’s Connie Simmons, Clinical Informatics Specialist, and Sangeetha Navaratnam, Patient Engagement, Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinator, together with partners at Microsoft and Health Hub, contacted the family members and helped them all set up Skype accounts. Not only were they able to make that connection, they ensured the family could connect as a group together on a video call, giving them that shared moment to say goodbye as a family.

This was one of those moments where you actually know you’ve made a difference at the end of the day.

Sangeetha Navaratnam, Patient Engagement, Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinator

For Connie and Sangeetha who were in the patient’s room during the video call, it was a powerful moment.

“For them to allow us to be a part of their family and their last goodbyes – it was very emotional,” says Connie, who began her nursing career during the SARS pandemic. Now in IT, she brings a unique perspective to the compassionate side of technology that can serve to enhance the patient experience. “It gave closure to everyone, including myself.”

During such a difficult personal time, with patients and families facing so many unexpected challenges, Southlake’s team was glad to provide one less worry for the family.

“This was one of those moments where you actually know you’ve made a difference at the end of the day,” says Sangeetha.

This service is not just about helping people say goodbye. Since this patient, who was the first that the team was able to support in this way, they have made connections possible for others as well – including new families excited to introduce their newborn to family and friends, patients recovering in hospital, as well as patients being treated for COVID-19.

Our team has also helped patients like Enid visit with her children through a video call, giving her a chance to see their faces.

“Thank you for arranging the Skype call for us with our Mom today,” Val, Enid’s daughter, wrote in an email to thank the staff who supported the call. “It means so much to us all. I want you to know that you have given us (and I hope Mom) some comfort in letting us have that time with her this afternoon. You definitely demonstrated the kindness and human elements of health care and I hope you know that you are valued. On behalf of all my siblings, thank you from the heart.”

For Val, the experience was as important for her and her siblings as it was for their mother in the hospital.

“It is hard enough to know you have a family member in hospital, but so much more difficult to cope knowing family and friends remain isolated from each other,” Val wrote in her email to staff.

Sangeetha chooses to look at the silver lining to all of this: “I think that long-term, even after the pandemic is over, if your family can’t get here because they live abroad, or can’t afford to travel or there are other barriers to physically being here, I think something wonderful could come out of this and this could be an option for patients.”

Southlake is proud of the commitment of our teams to make these connections possible, and be by our patient’s sides – always.