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IN IT TOGETHER: The pivotal role of Patient Partners

Posted Oct 29th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: The pivotal role of Patient Partners

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Tess Palatino, a Patient Partner with our Niagara Health Engagement Network.

It seems only fitting that Tess Palatino chose healthcare as an area to give back as a volunteer following her retirement.

Tess worked in the healthcare field for about 35 years, including almost 30 with Ontario’s Ministry of Health, where she led the development of provincial health policies. She finished her career developing policies for Critical Care Services Ontario, an agency under the University Health Network.

“I have a passion for healthcare. I’ve always had a desire to make a contribution in healthcare,” she says.

After Tess and her husband moved to Niagara from Markham, she was eager to seek volunteer opportunities in the region. A friend who works at Niagara Health suggested she look into the Niagara Health Engagement Network (NHEN).

The NHEN, which was launched in 2019, is composed of a roster of diverse individuals who are patients and families that have received care at Niagara Health or community members who want to make a difference in local healthcare. Patient Partners of the NHEN have direct input and play an active role in shaping policies and program development at Niagara Health. Examples include working groups, special projects and documentation development and review.

With her professional background and her experience as a caregiver to family members, Tess figured the NHEN would be a good fit for her. She became a Patient Partner in February, just one month before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

During the pandemic, Patient Partners have been instrumental in Niagara Health’s response, including providing input and helping to shape policies like visitor restrictions and other safety measures.

Tess is one of two Patient Partners who sits on our Safety Council, which currently meets virtually because of the pandemic. The council’s purpose is to develop, support and drive safety and risk priorities to eliminate preventable harm and ensure extraordinary care. Having Patient Partners on the council ensures the patient/family perspective is always at the centre of discussion, and challenges the organization to think of safety in different ways that matter most to the people we serve. 

“I am quite impressed that Niagara Health was committed to having two Patient Partners on their Safety Council,” says Tess, who is also a Patient Partner member on Niagara Health’s Organ and Tissue Donation Committee. “There is a real and sincere commitment to listen to Patient Partners. It’s a very authentic relationship and we are part of the decision-making process.”

Tess was also part of reviewing and offering input on Niagara Health’s campaign materials for Canadian Patient Safety Week, which is this week. Ensuring patient safety is a fundamental element of high-quality healthcare. Throughout the week, Niagara Health has been sharing with our patients and teams examples of our focus on patient safety, including tips to reduce the risk of falling, the importance of self-care, ways to prevent pressure injuries and how to stop the spread of viruses like COVID-19.


Tess says the patient voice is vital in healthcare.

“It’s so important to have the patient voice and experience. Whatever you are designing, be it a small procedure or a big procedure, you need the patient voice. So I am quite impressed by the Niagara Health Engagement Network,” she says.

Tess says the most challenging part for her in the early months of the pandemic was not being able to see her children who live in Toronto. “It was difficult, but we understood.”

One thing the pandemic has allowed her to do is discover, even more, the beauty of Niagara. “The beauty of the nature that we have amidst us is something that we leveraged. My husband and I walked more of the trails in the Niagara region exploring the beautiful Bruce Trail.”

Are you interested in becoming a Patient Partner volunteer at Niagara Health. Learn more about our Niagara Health Engagement Network here.

Learn more about Canadian Patient Safety Week here.

Niagara Health System