Patient advocacy: a vital part of our health care system

By Nancy Shaw
Head of Group Benefits Disability and Life
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I think most of us have gained a whole new level of respect and appreciation for the tireless efforts of our nurses, doctors, and countless other health care staff who’ve kept our system running during the pandemic. It’s been inspiring to see so many people and communities rally to support health workers over the last year and a half.

But there’s a sector of the health care system that I worry about – one that has also been hard-hit during the pandemic. It’s the patient advocacy sector. Specifically, the charitable organizations dedicated to helping people fight against, and live with, so many serious conditions and illnesses.

I’m referring to the societies and organizations fighting against cancer, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and others. Some of these organizations are well known and national in scope. Others are tackling lesser known, but no less serious, diseases and conditions.

It’s hard to compete for attention during a pandemic

Most of these groups rely heavily on volunteers and charitable donations to do their work. As you can imagine, during the pandemic, many of their normal fundraising activities were hindered by the lockdowns and the economic difficulties that so many people experienced. Not to mention the effects the pandemic has had on the way these groups operate, engage with their volunteers, and deliver services.

The challenges have added up, but the need hasn’t diminished. In fact, many experts fear there will be a surge in serious illnesses being diagnosed as the pandemic is brought under control and people resume health care appointments and tests that they put on hold.

I think it’s so important to recognize the work these organizations do and the role they play in the health care system. Some are raising money to support research to find cures. Others are dedicated to helping affected people and their families enjoy lives that are as close to ‘normal’ as possible. Most are also involved in providing education, programming, and creating awareness in the public, political and medical communities.

Caring about the health of Canadians

The challenge to raise awareness, influence change and support the health of Canadians is something I’m familiar with (and enjoy) in my role as head of disability and life at Manulife. And I was so pleased to hear that Manulife recently hosted a special night for guests of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Lodge in Halifax.

The Lodges provide convenient and comforting accommodations for patients and families when they must travel away from home to receive treatment. In addition to financial support, Manulife sponsored a movie night to help guests relax a little and take their minds off their worries – if only for a few hours. Having lost my own mother to cancer a few years ago, I can relate to the many emotions these guests are feeling. And I know that a kind and supportive gesture from a stranger can go a long way during a difficult time.

Like everything that we hold dear, I think it’s important that we look for ways to support the many patient advocacy groups - the often-unsung heroes of the health care system – who are working on behalf of Canadians. We each have skills and talents that can help these groups continue to deliver their vital services, even as the world finds its way forward through the pandemic and beyond.