2021 Blog Post

Barbara Cawley Reflects on VHA’s Client Voice Journey

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By VHA
A collage featuring Barb Cawley and photos of her with Client Voice experiences

“Client Voice” at VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) refers to engaging and involving clients and their families when new services are being designed or quality improvements are being made. Barbara Cawley, VHA’s Vice President, Client Services and the founder of VHA’s Client Voice program, is retiring at the beginning of July. We wanted to take this opportunity to share Barbara’s reflections on VHA’s Client Voice journey so far.

“About 10 years ago, organizations woke up to the fact that they would deliver better services and their efforts in establishing programs and initiatives had a better chance of success if they actually involved the people who were going to receive those services to guide them,” shared Barbara Cawley.

In 2013, one of VHA’s board members shared what was happening at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital where she worked. They had started involving family caregivers and children in their programming, so VHA had the opportunity to learn from them. We also heard about the experience Kingston General Hospital was having asking patients and their families for feedback, often based on complaints they had received.  They saw complaints as opportunities to improve their services; everything from parking costs, visiting hours and cafeteria food.

VHA’s CEO at that time, Carol Annett, and Barbara were excited about this approach to making care better and set out to learn from organizations that were engaging clients and family members in this way.

“Complaints were being reframed as opportunities,” Barbara said. “We recognized the benefits of that approach and wanted to learn more about how it was working. Ultimately, we adopted that philosophy at VHA,” she added. “Those who share complaints and concerns with us often become family and caregiver partners because when we ask them ‘how would you do it better?’, they often have ideas for solutions.”

In 2013 VHA brought a small group of family caregivers together with VHA staff. That group became VHA’s first Advisory Council.

“From there, we continued to learn best practices to become an organization that listens first. We travelled to the U.S. to receive more formal training and heard about the impact client involvement was having in various areas of other organizations,” added Barbara. “And just as we had been mentored by others’ experience, we also had the opportunity to share what we were doing and help other home care organizations to get started on this path.”

As the interest and commitment in involving clients and families in our work grew at VHA, opportunities arose for client partners to contribute to specific initiatives and smaller projects in addition to participating in the Advisory Council. Stacey Ryan, who was one of the inaugural family caregivers on VHA’s first Advisory Council, joined VHA’s staff in 2016 as VHA’s first Client and Family Liaison to help support and guide these growing efforts. Additionally, VHA’s Client Voice Steering Committee was formed with representation from departments across the organization so that the belief in partnering with clients and family caregivers could spread across the organization and at all levels and departments.

“Over the years, client partners have contributed to our work in countless ways,” said Barbara. “Client partners have shared their ideas to enhance our hoarding support and extreme cleaning programs, they’ve guided improvements to our dementia care, palliative care programs and chronic disease self-management resources. They have been involved in hiring for key staff roles, they participate in Ontario Health Team discussions and have contributed to the roll-out of virtual care services, to name just a few. VHA has truly embraced the mantra ‘nothing about me, without me’ which means that all of our work, whether it touches clients and families directly or indirectly, should be guided with client partner involvement.”

“It has been exciting to see this take hold at VHA,” Barbara shared. “And it is rewarding to know the importance and value VHA places on engaging and partnering with clients and their families. I am excited to watch it continue to grow.”

As Barbara Cawley begins her next chapter, Client Voice at VHA is starting a new chapter as well, as part of the Quality portfolio under the leadership of Kathy Sidhu, Interim VP, Quality Best Practice and Education, together with Stacey Ryan, Client and Family Voice Specialist. We look forward to sharing developments in our Client Voice program and stories about Client Voice in action at VHA as we go forward.