Healthy Living in the North

Canadian Patient Safety Week 2019: Speak out and conquer silence

Canadian Patient Safety Week takes place October 28 to November 1. This annual campaign encourages all Canadians to become involved in making patient safety a priority. The theme for Canadian Patient Safety Week (supported through the national organization Canadian Patient Safety Institute) is Conquer Silence and is raising the awareness of how silence of patients and providers in the system contributes to people dying.

“What most Canadians don’t realize, is that 28,000 of us die from preventable harm when receiving care, every single year. This makes patient safety incidents the third leading cause of death in Canada, behind cancer and heart disease. One in three Canadians has had patient harm affect themselves or a loved one, yet the public is collectively unaware that the problem exists. This is a silent epidemic. If we do nothing, 1.2 million Canadians will die from preventable patient harm in the next 30 years.” (Canadian Patient Safety Institute website.)

I recently spoke with Sally Rosevear, a patient partner with Northern Health, who has shared her story and her commitment to patient safety to encourage others to speak up and get involved.

A woman outside holding a toddler boy in a bear toque.

Sally and her grandson.

Sally’s story

My renewed interest in the delivery of healthcare began in 2014 during my husband’s hospitalization in the final few months of his life.

It was complications of long-standing coronary artery disease that brought us to an emergency room. My husband also had Alzheimer’s and we had managed successfully at home with myself as his sole caregiver until this time.

Throughout his care journey, I tried to answer the healthcare professionals’ questions, sometimes over and over again. However, when I had questions, explanations, or suggestions for them, it seemed there were few who would listen. I found this frustrating and not supportive, and I felt it negatively impacted the care my husband received.

When my husband reached the end of his life at home, under less than satisfactory conditions, I was more devastated by how things had been mishandled than by him having died.

In spite of my best efforts, things had gone terribly wrong. I didn’t want anyone else to have to endure what we’d been through. The system had failed us and it needed to be made aware. If I didn’t speak up would I be able to live with myself?

It was not easy to gather my thoughts and express them in a letter to Northern Health’s Patient Care Quality Office. However, I also felt that unless I made them aware of the situation, and changes were made, it was likely that other patients and their families would suffer similar outcomes. I didn’t want that to happen.

So began my continuing mission to speak up about the shortcomings that I had seen within healthcare. I joined Patient Voices Network (PVN) and have been given numerous opportunities to tell my story. I had tried to “speak up” during my husband’s journey, but often the response we received was “too little”, “too late” or both.  However, it wasn’t too late to speak out for others. My story supports how a focus on person- and family-centred care can improve care.

Currently, I am participating as a patient partner with Northern Health’s planning committee for the celebration of Canadian Patient Safety Week. This year’s theme is Conquer the Silence.

I find it alarming and unacceptable that one in three Canadians have been affected by preventable healthcare harm. Every 17 minutes someone dies in a hospital from an adverse event. Preventable healthcare harm is the third leading cause of death in Canada. This means that 28,000 people die each year who shouldn’t. Silence plays a major role.

So, if something looks wrong, feels wrong, or is wrong, speak out. You can effect improvements or even save a life. Check out the information on Canadian Patient Safety Week’s Conquer Silence campaign, learn about Patient Voices Network or contact Northern Health’s Patient Care Quality Office.


Thank you, Sally, for sharing your story!

Have a complaint about care? Here’s the process you should follow:

  1. Individuals with concerns or complaints should first speak with the person who provided the service, or to the manager of the area. Complaints are best addressed and resolved at the time and place they occur.
  2. If this isn’t an option or doesn’t serve you, the next step is to speak to local administration.
  3. If your complaint remains unresolved, please contact the NH Patient Care Quality Office.
Marlene Apolczer

About Marlene Apolczer

Marlene is the Quality Improvement Lead for the Northern Interior and is based in Prince George. Marlene is a longtime health care employee and worked in a number of program areas before bringing all of her knowledge and experience to her current role. When she is not working, you can usually find Marlene in a school gymnasium or hockey arena cheering on her teenage sons!


Canadian Patient Safety Week: Not all meds get along

Rob Pammett, Research and Development Pharmacist, holding a large bag of meds.

Rob Pammett, Research and Development Pharmacist – Primary Care, removing expired and unneeded medications from a patient’s home.

Canadian Patient Safety Week is October 29 – November 2, and this year’s theme is Not All Meds Get Along. It’s a reminder that modern medicine is very complex and requires careful monitoring to make sure people don’t experience medication-related harm.

Two thirds of Canadians over age 65 take at least five medications regularly, and more than 25% take over 10. We enjoy longer, healthier lives partly thanks to effective modern medications, but we should always be aware of the possibility of medication-related harm.

Medication interactions

Sometimes medications can interact with each other, making them work too well or not well enough, with serious consequences.

For example, imagine taking a natural health product that made your blood pressure medication work too well – you might start feeling woozy, low-energy, or even faint. This is a real example of what might happen if you took  peppermint extract and felodipine, a common blood pressure medication.

The importance of reviewing medications

Medication reviews help develop a clear list of your medications and how you’re taking them. A medication review can also help optimize your medications, making them easier to manage, safer and more effective. A review also gives both you and your healthcare team an up-to-date list of your medications, which can be vital if your health status changes, or if you need emergency care.

A wide variety of medications on the counter.Before starting any new medications (including over-the-counter products from a pharmacy, natural health products and vitamins, or even cannabis products), it’s important to talk to your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse practitioner. They can review your medications and give advice on whether they’ll be safe and effective for you.

Who should have a medication review?

I use the following 5 questions to help identify people who might benefit from a medication review:

  1. Do you regularly take 5 or more medications? (including prescription and non-prescription products, vitamins and minerals)
  2. Do you take 12 or more doses of medication each day?
  3. Are you currently taking medications for 3 or more medical conditions?
  4. Have your medications or the instructions on how to take them changed 4 or more times in the past year?
  5. Do you take any of the following medications?
    • Anti-epileptics
    • Anti-coagulants
    • Drugs for chronic pain
    • Insulin
    • Drugs to lower blood sugar
    • Lithium
    • Digoxin
    • Methotrexate

Answering “Yes” to 3 or more of these questions means there’s a good chance that your medications can be optimized: you should ask for a medication review. Stay healthy and have a great Canadian Patient Safety Week!

Rob Pammett

About Rob Pammett

Rob Pammett is the Research and Development Pharmacist – Primary Care, a partnership between Northern Health and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia, where he holds the rank of Assistant Professor (Partner). He has an active clinical role in multiple primary care homes in Prince George and works with interprofessional teams to provide comprehensive care to patients.