Zinta Erdmanis was introduced to VHA’s caregiving services in 2016, when her husband became ill and required palliative care. Now Zinta is one of VHA’s Palliative Care Steering Committee members and a committed client partner. We sat down with Zinta to chat about her life, her experience with VHA, and the importance of being involved as a client partner.
How did you become involved with VHA?
In 2016, my husband was diagnosed with ALS and almost immediately became a palliative patient. My husband didn’t want to be hospitalized, he wanted to live out his life at home. The Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) referred us to VHA, and he began receiving homecare, nursing and other services. After my husband passed away, VHA asked me if I would be interested in becoming a part of the palliative care steering committee. I was quite honoured, because I wanted to help others in the same position as I was.
Can you share some projects that you have worked on?
One of the more important projects that I was involved with was the development of the palliative care section on VHA’s website. These pages provide information on palliative care, links to different disease websites, financial assistance information, self-care resources and so much more. I’m very proud to have worked on this, because when I was a caregiver, I didn’t have a lot of time for myself, and I didn’t have time to look for information. Being able to provide caregivers information that’s easy to source saves them a lot of stress, grief and time. The information on VHA’s website is now being developed into a brochure and will be provided to palliative caregivers at home.
How has your experience been with VHA in general?
It’s been good! The palliative steering committee work is something I very strongly believe in. It is such a horrible time for caregivers and their family members, and we are trying to make it as easy as possible for them. As client partners and caregivers, you want things to move quickly, and I am pleased that at VHA the projects have been moving quite quickly. I’m very proud of VHA and their commitment to palliative care. It’s an important initiative because as the population ages, there are going to be more and more people at home looking for end-of-life care.
When my husband was ill, it was a very lonely experience, even though I had my family and friends around. One day your life is perfectly normal, the next day you’re thrown into a terminal illness, and your world is turned upside down. You have to learn very quickly where you can go, what your resources are, where you can find help—and that’s not always easily available. I feel that I am helping others through my involvement with the palliative steering committee and being a client partner. The programs and the materials that we’re developing are helping people who are in a similar situation, and I’m very proud of that.
Why do you think it is important for clients to be involved in making decisions?
I think it’s a great opportunity for both VHA and their clients to be involved in decision making processes, because we each learn about the other’s perspective. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, you won’t know what they’re going through. I think VHA learns a lot about the complexities of palliative care and end-of-life situations from clients, and it brings a lot of compassion to VHA and their care providers. And clients learn a lot from VHA—they learn about the services that are available and they develop very strong relationships with the caregivers. During my husband’s illness, our home care providers were amazing. They stayed in touch after my husband’s passing and I felt like they became part of the family. There are so many compassionate people working at VHA!
What would you tell someone who is interested in becoming a client partner?
I personally found it very rewarding and stimulating, and I met a lot of new people. I think a lot of people who face death want to do something, but they may not be able to make that commitment to VHA in becoming a partner. I’m afraid that when my time on the palliative steering committee comes to an end, I will be at a bit of a loss and will need to find something else to do at VHA. In the end, becoming a client partner is worthwhile and very rewarding!