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Share Your Voice: Client Partners Play Key Roles on Three Steering Committees Improving Services for Clients and Families

March 5, 2020
Collage of three VHA steering committees: Palliative Care, Children with Complex Medical Needs and Cognitive Impairment

In 2015, VHA established three steering committees to create a roadmap for how VHA would deliver our services in three significant client population areas: Palliative Care, Children with Complex Medical Needs (CCMN), and Cognitive Impairment.

According to Catherine Chater, Chair of the Cognitive Impairment Committee and Professional Practice Specialist in Rehab, there were really two key objectives: “One being making sure the direct care that we provide as an organization is aligned to best practices. And then, because the caregiver has such a profound role, particularly for dementia and the community, being able to support the caregiver and what they’re doing was a core component of the work.”

Client partners were embedded with each committee and their lived experience with palliative care, children with complex medical needs, and cognitive impairment provided the committees with crucial lessons about what was needed in the field and developing practical solutions.

Client partners were key drivers of the work. “One of our client partners, Margaret Burrows, really advocated for the PSWs,” said Professional Practice Specialist (Nursing & PSW) and Palliative Steering Committee Co-Chair Janet Chan. “She identified some gaps in preparing the PSWs for MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) and with her feedback, we were able to create an instructional video for the PSWs on what to expect.” Another client partner, Zinta Erdmanis proved to be a key resource in creating the VHA Palliative Care website.

Mona Ismail had been a caregiver for two people with dementia and figured out a useful way to engage with PSWs. “She set up a communication log with the PSWs who were coming into her home, and that log is now part of the formal VHA activation toolkit,” said Catherine. Elizabeth Hall is a nurse by training who also cared for someone with dementia. She scoured the papers looking for new approaches and discovered a program that is already changing dementia care in Canada: the Butterfly Model of Care. “With Brandi D’Souza’s help, we were able to secure a $35,000 grant from the Spark Initiative to build the Emotion-Focus Activation Program, which is our version of the Butterfly Model,” says Catherine.

The collaborative spirit of the committees also had a positive emotional impact on members. “For Zinta and Tom (Cladd), who had just lost family members, finding the committee gave them new purpose again,” said Janet. “Zinta was proud that she could show her daughter that life goes on and you can still contribute.”

There is also satisfaction in knowing the work is going to persist. “What we’ve created as committees is now embedded within the organization and is certainly going to continue,” says Matt Wong, CCMN Committee Co-Chair and Manager of Professional Practice and the Lead for Infection Prevention and Control. “Throughout the process, we embraced different voices and different points of view. “I’m so proud that everyone was really dedicated to doing this work.”

Become a client partner and share your voice! VHA is always looking to improve. Join the conversation. If you would like to share your thoughts and become a Client Voice partner at VHA, please contact or 647-460-8595 for more information.