Overcoming is a series of stories about our patients and their remarkable healthcare journeys.
Patient Partner Catherine Bourque has participated in a variety of initiatives at Niagara Health aimed at improving the patient experience.
Catherine Bourque has never been the type to sit around and do nothing.
When multiple cancer diagnoses and ensuing healthcare appointments meant taking a leave from her job, Catherine still refused to idle. If anything, she was driven to find new and greater purpose.
Catherine discovered it in 2019 as one of the first Patient Partners with the Niagara Health Engagement Network (NHEN). Patient Partners are volunteers who work alongside staff and physicians to create meaningful improvements to quality, safety and the care experience based on their own perspectives and interactions with Niagara Health.
Like Catherine, they can serve on ongoing committees, meeting regularly throughout the year. Patient Partners can also contribute to shorter-term initiatives. In either case, they can be involved in everything from sharing insights at all levels of planning and implementation to reviewing literature and messaging, ensuring information is provided in a way people can understand.
Overall, more than 50 Patient Partners from a variety of backgrounds have been engaged in co-designing, and sharing their voices and insights in productive ways on 142 initiatives at Niagara Health.
Given the extent of the healthcare she’s received at Niagara Health since 2015 – Catherine’s cancer is chronic and she has required regular monitoring in many of our departments – the south Niagara woman has lots of insight to offer the physicians, executive team members and administrators with whom she works. Her hope is her experiences will help healthcare practitioners when making decisions related to a patient’s care.
“I find that very fulfilling,” Catherine says. “My goal is to expand their vision to say ‘Gee, I never thought of that.’ I know I’ve had an impact when I hear my own words and suggestions implemented in a real and meaningful way.”
Catherine is the ideal candidate for the role. Throughout her cancer journey, she’s never asked “Why me?” But she knows not everyone processes their diagnosis in the same way and that can make them reluctant or unwilling to speak up about their own healthcare experiences.
It’s for those patients, as much as herself, that she wants to be a voice at the table, shaping the extraordinary caring Niagara Health is committed to providing.
Catherine has been part of more than 30 initiatives focused on improving patient experiences. She’s been involved with “Know your healthcare options,” a public education campaign about healthcare options so Niagara residents know where to seek timely care in the community in non-emergency situations and avoid unnecessary emergency department visits. Catherine has assisted with critical community messaging about changes to hospital activities during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also described in detail what it’s like to be inside a CT scanner, MRI machine and bone scanner to help patients prepare for the procedures that some find challenging.
“I feel like I represent a plethora of patients who can’t or won’t speak up,” Catherine says. “Given how uncertain my healthcare future is, I want to make it count. If I can make it a little less difficult for the next patient, I’ll do it. I see them sitting in those chairs getting treatment at the Walker Family Cancer Centre and I know they’re scared out of their minds.”
Partnering with Niagara Health is a win-win, she adds. The hospital benefits from her point of view, which is largely shaped by her own positive experiences, but she also gains a better understanding of the inner workings of healthcare and a greater appreciation of her relationship with Niagara Health.
“I know my journey, like everyone’s, is unique and I’ve felt respected and cared for,” she adds. “There’s a lot of empathy. I’ve never felt I’m taking up a doctor’s or nurse’s time or that my questions are mundane or inappropriate. I always get answers and it’s clear to me that they will talk to me until I get it. I’m grateful that’s my experience because if it hadn’t been, I don’t think I’d have fared as well. It shaped my positivity.”