I’m one of those lucky people who recognized my career path when I was only a young girl in Junior High. At such a tumultuous time of development, I recall many emotional rollercoaster rides for both my peers and me.
Consistently, often without realizing why, at that age I found myself being that one friend my peers could confide in or lean on. Looking back now from a more mature vantage point, I can see what positioned me to be the go-to person when my friends needed someone to talk to – and the short answer is that I did not reject opinions, I simply listened! With a few open-ended, clarification questions asked along the way, I could help stories unfold naturally, which often resulted in others around me recognizing their own solutions by just talking it out.
My guiding values
As we grow older and a little wiser over time, we very quickly realize that the answers to life’s challenges are not always clearly available or easy. However, in my experience, I have found that active listening, affording dignity and respect, and working together as a team can lead to opening a door when one feels isolated or shut out of our own world. I hold these values very close to my heart, and I can honestly say that my values are what guided me to the field of social work.
I’m Darlene Didham, and I began my career in the field of social work when I graduated in 1993 from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) with a Bachelor of Social Work Degree. Now, 10 years later with a Master of Social Work Degree, I realize that I was fortunate to have gained experience in various areas within Eastern Health, including in child protection, foster care, youth services, youth corrections and mental health and addictions. But more recently, I was also involved in the development of treatment services at the Tuckamore Centre, the youth treatment centre in Paradise, where I worked as a clinical social worker.
Because of my experience, today, more than ever, I respect the resilience and strength of patients, clients, residents and families, and I believe it is so important to incorporate their voice as health-care programs and services are being developed. So, when a position became available as Client- and Family- Centred Care Manager with Eastern Health’s Quality, Patient Safety and Risk Management Department in 2016, I was eager to jump on this very exciting and challenging opportunity. I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be able to build on my passion to work with people and to make a difference on a much larger scale.
Eastern Health’s Client-and Family-Centred Care Philosophy
Eastern Health’s Client- and Family-Centred Care philosophy is health-care delivery that is based on mutually beneficial partnerships between clients, families, health-care employees and physicians. It is a philosophy of care that views people using health services as equal partners in planning, developing, monitoring and evaluating care to make sure it meets their needs. In Client- and Family-Centred Care, the word “client” also refers to patients and residents.
I’ve learned that when all of us work together, communication is enhanced. The values, goals and needs of patients, clients, residents and families can be more clearly understood and the experience and quality of care can be improved. Evidence also demonstrates that Client- and Family-Centred Care can produce benefits such as decreased anxiety levels; enhanced recovery; reduced medication errors; and reduced re-admissions (ACSQHC, 2012). Therefore, engaging clients and families in all aspects of their care planning is so important, as it increases opportunity for better health outcomes for all.
Incorporating the right voice at the right time
Seeing that April is Cancer Awareness Month, I want to tell you about a great initiative that is actively working to ensure that the patient, family and caregiver voice is incorporated into the development of Eastern Health’s cancer care programs and services – and this involves the ongoing recruitment for volunteer patient and family advisors for the Provincial Cancer Care Program of Newfoundland and Labrador’s new Patient and Family Advisory Council.
The Cancer Care Program’s Patient and Family Advisory Council aims to engage and partner with patients, families and caregivers across Newfoundland and Labrador to gather input and advice, all of which can offer invaluable insight of lived experiences in the cancer care system.
Over recent months, I was lucky to have worked with a small group of professionals to create materials and tools for the Provincial Cancer Care Program’s Patient and Family Advisory Council that will train employees, physicians and future advisors to work with each other to enhance cancer service delivery and the overall patient, family and caregiver experience across the cancer journey.
Making a difference together
Having been a social worker for 24 years, I have seen the difference in health outcomes when people work together while demonstrating respect, compassion, empathy, and when individuals truly listen and hear what others have to say.
On a personal level, I have also firsthand experienced in the sharing of my father’s cancer care journey and the positive impact compassion and the inclusion in care planning can make. This is what Client- and Family-Centred Care means to me and with this philosophy of care, together we can strive to carry out Eastern Health’s vision of Healthy People, Healthy Communities. ■
This article was written in honour of Darlene’s father, John (Jack) Tremblett, who passed away from cancer in 2013.
This story was written by Darlene Didham, social worker and client- and family-centred care manager, with contributions from Zelda Burt, communications manager and Learning LEADerS participant 2016-17.
The Provincial Cancer Care Program is looking for six to eight volunteers across Newfoundland and Labrador (isolated, remote, rural and urban) to act as patient and family advisors on its new Patient and Family Advisory Council.
Patients and family members with experience in cancer care will be considered for the role of patient and family advisors within the Cancer Care Program’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. Training will be provided to successful applicants.
To apply for this meaningful volunteer opportunity, please visit www.easternhealth.ca/cfcc and complete a Client and Family Advisor application, indicating cancer care as an area of interest. For more information about the application process, please e-mail Client.FamilyAdvisors@easternhealth.ca or call (709) 777-6777.