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Empathy and compassion: New provincial framework includes patient involvement in hiring decisions

Compassion, as well as competency, are key elements to engagement in mental health and substance use care.
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Katie Mai, Leader, Patient Experience and Community Engagement, holding the Patient and Family Engagement Framework, an evidence-based resource for staff, physicians and researchers to involve patients as active partners in decision-making.

​​As an organizational and work culture expert, Ron Merk has hired hundreds of team members and participated on too many hiring panels to count.

But lending his expertise to help the BC Forensic Psychiatric Hospital (FPH) hire their Social Work Professional Practice Lead resonated with the Vancouver Island retiree on an entirely personal level as a loved one would benefit directly from this new hire's personal and professional expertise.

"Management and organizational skills are just that - skills," he said. "They can be learned, but compassion, empathy and people-centred thinking are hard to learn. Often candidates either have these or they never will. From a family and patient perspective, these factors outweigh most other factors when picking someone."

To ensure the panel valued compassion as well as competency, Merk "jumped" at the opportunity to participate on the FPH hiring panel when the invitation was extended. 

"My wife and I have experienced almost every aspect of what it means to have a loved one suffering from mental health and addiction," he said. "We've journeyed from feeling anger and despair not only at our loved one, but also at the system. We've all also experienced a lack of treatment and care along the way."

Merk's involvement, according to Katie Mai, Leader, Patient Experience and Community Engagement, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS), is an example of what great engagement should look like.

And to ensure more of it happens across all BCMHSUS services and programs, the new Patient & Family Engagement Framework has been created to guide this work; the when, who, why and what of patient and family engagement. This important work gives rise to the philosophy "Nothing about us, without us", originally coined by disability rights activists and has since expanded to mental health and substance use movement.

Mai said patients and families have embraced the opportunity to work in partnership with staff, physicians and researchers. "As a health care system, we have a high moral and ethical responsibility to engage those impacted by health decisions - in making those decisions," she said. "People with lived experience have the first-hand knowledge and insight to define both the problem and the solution."

"Engagement allows us to co-design a health care system that meets the needs of patients and their families. When done meaningfully, it can also play an important role in people's recovery and re-integration into community by providing them work and learning opportunities."

Weighted toward engaging a population struggling with concurrent disorders and substance use, Mai hopes the new framework becomes a useful tool for both regional health authorities and community-based non-profits as they find themselves providing care to former clients of BCMHSUS services and facilities.

"Ultimately our clients will be discharged into the broader system, and that system needs to support them in their ongoing healing and recovery journey," said Mai. "We'd really love for the framework to become standard practice across the province."

Click here to download a copy of the new Patient & Family Engagement Framework.

 
 
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