Patient and family advisors use own experiences to enhance mental healthcare

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In 2005, Margret Hajdinjak’s son (Steven Hajdinjak) took his own life after suffering with depression. He had visited the hospital for treatment for mental health issues three weeks earlier. Margret believes her son’s care could have been different, and now volunteers can help to improve experiences for others.

Margret has been involved with several community groups related to the understanding and treatment of mental health issues, including Our Kids Count, an agency which promotes children’s health and development, and Roots of Empathy, whose mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies. She also developed Out of the Darkness, a community action project that includes an annual walk for suicide awareness.

It was at the Out of the Darkness walk four years ago that Margret first learned about the opportunity to become a Patient and Family Advisor (PFA) at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC). Fern Tarzia, Mental Health Case Management Intake Coordinator at TBRHSC, suggested Margret apply her opinions and experiences to help make changes within the hospital.

Since becoming a PFA, Margret has participated in several TBRHSC committees and councils, particularly those related to mental health issues and the emergency department. She is also a member of the Patient Family Centered Care Leadership Council that develops and supports processes to advance the practice of Patient Family Centered Care throughout the whole organization. She is currently part of a group that is working on a plan that will focus on respect, immediate care and continual attention. Margaret and three other PFAs from TBRHSC, recently travelled to Toronto by the request of the President of the Patients Association of Canada to help other hospitals learn how to involve their PFAs like Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has done so well.

Margret understands firsthand the impact and importance of taking the patient’s and family’s perspective into consideration. Patients and their families share a unique perspective. That’s why PFAs are integral to advancing patient and family centered care.

Margret looks forward to continuing her contributions as a PFA, providing insights and personal experiences that will lead to improvements in the patient care approach to mental health.