Wednesday, 30 October 2013 13:19

Help available from Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society

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Heather Oxman of the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society speaks at the Medicine Hat Public Library on Oct. 22 during the Palliser Friends of Medicare annual general meeting. Heather Oxman of the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society speaks at the Medicine Hat Public Library on Oct. 22 during the Palliser Friends of Medicare annual general meeting. Southern Alberta Newspapers Photo by Emma Bennett

There is assistance available for people who feel they need help navigating the health-care system or who are seeking advice about how to lodge a complaint effectively when something has gone wrong.

Attendees at the Palliser Friends of Medicare meeting Oct. 22 in Medicine Hat heard more about the Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society from Heather Oxman, committee chairperson of the advocacy team.
“Our advocates work to support the clients who come to Open Arms with navigation or complaint requests and provide assistance to them in getting the help they need,” explained Oxman.
That help can mean setting up a liaison between officials in the health system and the client who is seeking answers. It can also be helping coach clients to create good questions to ask and help them improve their own communication.
“We show the client how to effectively complain to generate a change in behaviour or process within a facility,” said Oxman. “As well, we connect with the facility and specific staff leaders to work on facilitating face-to-face meetings with the care team, always only if that is what the client desires.”
She was quick to point out the client always leads and Open Arm advocates do not speak for clients.
“We help the client speak for themselves.”
If a client dies, then the family can become the client of Open Arms, receiving support and assistance, but still speaking for themselves.
“We provide information, guidance, support, advice — but not medical advice — based on experience, but we do not stand in place of the client,” added Oxman.
The main difference between Opens Arms and a group such as Friends of Medicare is Open Arms does not lobby government. Officials can however inform political offices of trends and issues that are occurring, but must inform all sides.
“In this way, our neutrality becomes a strength in our work as we remain non-partisan and objective in our dealings with any facility, service, agency and organization when we seek assistance with a case on behalf of a client.”
Oxman said Open Arms has become a trusted agent with officials from Alberta Health Services and other agencies being willing to work closely with them.
So far this year, 44 clients have been served by the society. That includes nine active cases and 10 pending cases. Clients concerns so far this year included mental health, senior health, senior accommodation, youth health, surgery, disability, diagnosis, pain management, unexpected death and end-of-life care.
The Open Arms Advocacy Society has been incorporated since 2008. There are some goals the society wants to accomplish in the coming years including geographically expanding advocacy efforts in Alberta.
“And for that we need more volunteer advocates in other urban and rural locations,” said Oxman.
Another goal of the group is to do more research and trends analysis of cases and their outcomes.
“As we accumulate experience, we can show Alberta Health Services and others where clients are experiencing repetitive patterns that could be corrected or improved.”
The society also wants to work with other like-minded non-profit organizations and teaching institutions, develop and implement a communication and marketing strategy and possible much further down the road serve clients beyond Alberta’s boundaries.
The Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society is only in Alberta and there are no chapters or centres of service anywhere else in the country.
“We are unique on the Canadian landscape,” said Oxman. “Other agencies may have ‘patient advocates,’ but they are either paid by the specific agency to represent their point of view or they are paid by the client to provide the service. We are free of charge and non-partisan.”
The non-profit agency provides service through $10 per year memberships and fundraisers. There are about 17 active members and eight advocates.
“We seek to follow the lead of our clients as they identify their needs for navigation, through a complex system and their concerns with that system, whether they experience system hiccups which frustrate and anger them or crisis events which change their lives,” said Oxman. “We are there for our clients when they reach out top Open Arms for help.”
More information about Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society is available online at: http://www.openarms or phone 403-463-1179.

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