Vanessa Fowler (left) with a client for her patient care advocacy service. Photo Credit: ContributedVanessa Fowler (left) with a client for her patient care advocacy service. Photo Credit: Contributed

Kelowna nurse advocates for patients

Frustration navigating health care system spawns business idea

Our health care system is a maze to negotiate that often leads people frustrated in their search to address mental or physical medical disability issues.

As an emergency department nurse for 14 years, Vannessa Fowler could see those gaps in communication, patients falling through the cracks such as families caring for aging parents or relatives.

She would see patients discharged, their immediate health concerns dealt with, given perhaps program pamphlets, a contact name and phone number to call.

They were about to get immersed in the health care system which can be overwhelming to navigate, Fowler said.

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From that frustration, Fowler identified a need that her nursing skill-set seemed ideal to fill, to be a patient care advocate, creating Nightingale Patient Care Advocacy, a service to assist families in traversing the vast intricacies of the health care system.

It was a business idea new to the health care field in B.C. Patient care advocates are common in the U.S. and has spawned entrepreneurial interest in Ontario.

“It’s a new concept relatively speaking for Canada but I think it’s going to become quite popular over the next decade,” Fowler said.

And she hopes to be on the ground floor in the Okanagan, having established her business the last couple of years out of Kelowna while continuing to work part-time in the Kelowna General Hospital ER.

Now she is looking to increase her staff by hiring more registered nurse trained advocates and expanding her services across the valley.

“I guess my dream will be to franchise my business right across Canada. But right now the focus is on the Okanagan. We started in Kelowna and will go from there.”

Fowler explains a patient care advocate’s role as to understand what a client’s health care needs are, and be their voice to set them up with the right people and services.

“People will sometimes tell me this kind of service should be free, provided by the health care system. While I would agree with them, I can’t work for free.”

But in response to those sentiments, Fowler is about to start monthly workshops to help people learn some of the ABCs of advocating on their own behalf, the first one taking place Nov. 28, 7 to 9 p.m., at 201-338 Bernard Ave., in downtown Kelowna.

She says requests for her assistance come from children who live in different communities from where their elderly parents who need special care and attention live, research alternative medication options for afflictions such as cancer and parents seeking mental health care option for their adolescent children.

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While there are social service advocates working within the health care system to assist patients with health care need lifestyle changes and protocols, Fowler says there is a limit to what they can do regarding a patient’s specific health care needs.

“How you deliver your message, explain your health care situation, is the difference between directed to assistance or becoming lost in the system,” she said.

“I want to set up clients with the right people and the right services, and have the knowledge to make good informed decisions about their health care.”

For more information about the upcoming patient care advocacy workshop, call 250-862-8894 or go online to www.nightingalepca.ca.

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