Rescue AND Routine: We need both

2012-07-09 Rescue and Routine BBv2

This week marks the 12-year anniversary of the tornado that devastated the Pine Lake area in Alberta, located 25 km southeast of Red Deer. It was one of the worst tornadoes in Canadian history, injuring hundreds of people and reducing a once idyllic campground into rubble. It was also one of the deadliest. My dad, Charles (Pete) Boutin, was one of the 12 people killed that day.

This photo (taken that day) shows the wreckage. It is a particularly poignant image for me, as my family believes the man being carried away by rescue workers was my father. Unfortunately, they were not able to help him.

But these heroic health system workers did help many people survive the devastation. In fact, they jumped into action and did what we always expect our health system to do – put on the red cape and save the day. Those of us who were touched by the Pine Lake tragedy will always be grateful for what they did. In a time of great crisis, the health system responded with great care.

But what about all the times when it’s just regular day-to-day health care that’s needed? At this year’s Quality Summit, Jim Easton (National Director of Improvement and Efficiency for England’s National Health Service) talked about how we, as a health system, need to learn to “love the routine.” We’re amazing in a crisis. But our patients thrive in the calm.

I see this in the aftermath of the Pine Lake tragedy. My mother is a survivor of the tornado that took her husband. She now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression—as the health system awkwardly tries to figure out how to partner with her on managing these life-long conditions. She needs routine care that takes the time to ask how she’s doing, beyond perfunctory questions about her arthritis. She needs care that’s available when she needs it, which is often later in the day or early evening, especially when summer storms roll through and reignite her fears.

Each year I return to Pine Lake to visit the memorial site. And each year, I continue to be amazed and heartened at the unfolding transformation of the campground. It no longer looks like the place I knew, but it has become something wonderful in a new way. Hundreds of families are making joyful summer memories there, just as mine did.

Our health system is also undergoing its own transformation. This week I found myself wondering what it will look like a decade or so from now. How transformed will it be? Will we still be focused on the crises? Or will we have the kind of calm, timely, patient-centred care that people like my mom need?

What do you think about the way we provide routine care? How would you like to see it transformed?

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5 Responses to “Rescue AND Routine: We need both”

  1. Heather Thiessen
    July 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Thank you Bonnie for your story. I too also wonder what our health care system will look like in a few years too. My hope is it will be the calm, timely, patient centered care that your mom and all us patients want and deserve.

    • Bonnie Brossart
      Bonnie Brossart
      July 20, 2012 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Heather. I am really hopeful, too. Having had the privilege of visiting some high performing health systems I know it’s possible.

  2. Maura Davies
    July 16, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Bonnie, thanks for sharing this very personal story. My thoughts are with you as you reflect on the loss you and your family experienced. I agree that our health system is amazing in times of crises. The challenge before us is defining and making standard work, the way we do things consistently and reliably every day, equally exciting and important.

    • Bonnie Brossart
      Bonnie Brossart
      July 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      I agree wholeheartedly Maura. I was particularly struck by a comment I heard at Seattle Children’s Hospital that went something like “the only variation we tolerate is that of the patients”. Standard work helps eliminate the variation we introduce as providers; and contrary to what some may think (i.e., patients are not widgets) actually creates the opportunity to deviate from the standard when needed.

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