Clients and family members bring health care experiences to the table through the Client & Family Partners Program


Giving back; making things a bit easier for the next person; using my experience to make health care better - these are themes that you hear again and again from St. Joseph’s Care Group’s Client and Family Partners when they talk about why they became involved in the Client and Family Partner Program (CFPP).

Through the CFPP, clients and/or their family members work alongside staff members in making decisions that lead to improvements, big and small, in the care experience. Client and Family Partners participate in a variety of councils, panels, committees and working groups at the local level, as well as regionally and provincially. “Engaging clients and families provides that perspective of what it’s actually like to receive that service,” says Kristine Quaid, a Client & Family Partner and Peer Connections lead. “I think the whole point and purpose of engagement is you get so many different perspectives and you can bounce the ideas around and come up with a solution. If you have the opportunity and desire to be part of a solution when it comes to health care, being involved in CFPP is where it’s at.”

Margaret Rusnak enjoys her CFPP involvement. “I really appreciate that they value what I have to say,” she says. She offers the perspective of a family member, advocating on behalf of families with a resident in a long-term care home. Since 2013, she’s taken part in interview panels, participating in the interview process for both management and support staff. “I’ll never forget the first interview because I asked a question from the perspective of a resident of long-term care.” She notes that the interviewee’s answer was revealing: “The staff members [on the panel] were pleased that I asked that question because it gave them a feeling of how that person would empathize with people living in long-term care.”

Cal Young brings his own experience with respiratory health care to the table as he represents Northwestern Ontario as a Patient Advisor with Health Quality Patient, Family and Public Advisors Council, attending meetings locally and provincially. “I’m a patient with St. Joseph’s Care Group in the lung rehab program. The first year and a half I was diagnosed with COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] I had just given up. I thought my life was over. What I learned at the therapy program really brought me out of that, and I wanted to give back by becoming involved in the health community.” He shares insights and updates with CFPP, and also speaks at health care conferences. “I get to talk about my journey and how important education is; how important it is to get patients involved in their own journey.” He adds that he makes sure to talk about mental health support for patients and caregivers too. “When you’re struggling to breathe, things go in one ear and out the other. You don’t understand what [health care providers] are saying. A lot of times, the medical community can forget that. By having family and caregivers involved, they hear what’s going on, they know what to expect, they know how to help you through your journey.”

Wanting to be part of the health care conversation as a mental health client is what inspired Kristine to get involved too. When the opportunity came along to share the client perspective as part of a mental health training video for staff, she took it. “That was four years ago, and I still have people stop me quite frequently and say ‘I saw you on that learning module on stigma and it changed how I approach people; it’s made a difference in how I engage clients and newcomers for service.’ We have to keep engaging with the people we serve to understand and make their experience better.”

Like Cal, Kristine is also bringing a Northwestern Ontario voice to provincial health care planning. She volunteers with Health Quality Ontario to write guidelines for opioid use disorder (addiction) to help people through recovery. “Being part of a committee or council or working group-it gives you a sense of belonging and it helps you to feel empowered to be able to do more for the community. Giving back to the community is a big piece of my recovery. Feeling like you’re part of that whole process is amazing.”

This is part two of a two-part article that features the work of Client and Family Partners at St. Joseph’s Care Group. Visit to learn more about the Client and Family Partner Program. Spotlight on Care is a monthly column from St. Joseph’s Care Group exploring various topics in health care. It normally appears on the Healthstyle page of The Chronicle-Journal on the third Tuesday of each month. Visit to find out more about St. Joseph’s Care Group.

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