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Keeping her memory alive


Her experience will not be forgotten. “We experienced inefficiencies in the system, and I’m working with the Region now to change that,” said Graham Parsons.

Penny and Graham Parsons
Penny and Graham Parsons in Maui, a trip they took together every year for 25 years. PHOTO CREDIT: GRAHAM PARSONS

When remembering the woman he knew for 52 years, and had been married to for 48, Parsons paints the portrait of the love of his life, of someone who fought hard – beating cancer three times and living with Parkinson’s – and who never gave up. It’s this reality that makes her death difficult to accept.

“If the practices present in the Accountable Care Unit (ACU) had been present when Penny was alive, her experience would have been much different,” Parsons said.

Changes for the better
Partially funded by the Ministry of Health, the ACU pilot project was launched in January at Regina’s Pasqua Hospital Unit 4A. It is a transformational piece of work happening in the Region and the first of its kind in the country.

“I am happy here. This unit made me love nursing again,” said Jennifer Sanders an LPN working on the ACU. “The ACU makes it so that nurses are heard.”

“It takes a team-based approach to patient care; ensuring patients receive the safest, highest quality care possible,” said Dr. David McCutcheon, VP of Physician and Integrated Health Services in the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region and a key part of the Region’s ACU pilot project.

Parsons is part of this pilot, too.

“I am a patient advocate, offering a patient’s perspective to the changes,” Parsons explains. “Penny’s story can put a real face to the changes needed in our medical system, and that’s why I am doing this.”

Penny’s experience
In late 2013, Penny had a stroke. Convinced this was simply another medical hurdle his wife would clear, Parsons was hopeful her brain surgery would be successful – and it was.

“Once we left the ICU, that’s when things went downhill. I had no idea what was happening with her treatment, and could never find her doctor to ask,” he said.
Penny Parsons
Penny in hospital. Her husband has worked to implement the ACU hoping to keep her memory alive. PHOTO CREDIT: GRAHAM PARSONS

When Penny dropped from a size 10 to a size 2, unable to eat or drink and became fetal and unresponsive, that’s when Parsons decided something had to change.

“I found a new doctor, and found out what the problem was,” he said. And the news was devastating.

The stent in Penny’s brain used to repair the damage from her stroke caused more problems than it fixed, and these issues went undiagnosed. Then one night, Penny fell while going to the bathroom and it all became too much for her to fight. On September 14, 2014 Penny Parsons died.

Addressing fragmented hospital care
“I wish someone would have helped Penny to the bathroom that night,” Parsons explains. “And, I wish we could have met with her doctor more to discuss what was happening.”

What Parsons and those working to build the Accountable Care Unit model now know is the problem is in how the system is structured.

“As a nurse, I can only do so much,” Sanders said of her experience in health care. “I know what is supposed to happen in many situations, but I can’t do anything unless the doctor orders it.”

Traditional hospital wards are designed in a way that communication and teamwork deficiencies can lead to challenges in delivering care. Physicians can travel from patient to patient in unpredictable patterns, creating missed opportunities to share perspectives and coordinate care with nurses, discharge planning personnel, pharmacists, therapists and the patients and families themselves.

Since launching the ACU in January, these problems are being addressed head-on.

“One of the most significant changes to how we traditionally do things are the structured interdisciplinary bedside rounds (SIBR) now happening on the ACU. Care teams now travel together from patient room to patient room and share information about the patient’s care plan, revising as necessary,” Dr. McCutcheon explains. “This means the care team is up-to-date on the plan daily and most importantly, so is the patient and their family.”

Something Parsons wishes had happened with Penny.

With the ACU pilot in full swing patients on that unit now receive treatment exclusively from hospital-based physicians. When they leave, they are discharged to the care of their family doctor.

“I am not afraid to come to work, worried something out of my control will happen to one of my patients and cause harm,” Sanders said. “To have physicians on the ward, available if something does happen is so important to me. It’s not about one nurse, one patient or one physician, it’s about a team, and this has changed my job.”

Because of the impact Penny’s experience had on those working to build the ACU, upholding her memory is important. Now to signal the start of the SIBR rounds Parsons believes Penny so desperately needed, a song will be played in her memory – Penny Lane, by The Beatles.

“Just like Penny worked her whole life to improve society, I know she would want me to help improve health care, in her name,” said Parsons and his focus on ensuring Penny’s story is not forgotten has touched the staff, physicians and leaders in the Region.