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One morning, as Lori Taylor entered the MaRS Discovery District entrance to Toronto General Hospital (TGH) through the subway, she noticed a cluster of people swirling around the doors, impatient to get through.
Caught in the stream of people pushing past them was an elderly couple struggling with the access button on the heavy doors.
As Lori hurried to help, she noticed the man had two canes, and the woman was wheeling an oxygen tank. No one stopped to help them.
"I was worried about the people streaming through and knocking them down," recalls Lori. "Those doors were heavy, even for me. And the couple looked distraught."
October is ...
October is Caring Safely Month, a time to not only celebrate the achievements of UHN's patient and workplace safety transformation but also emphasize some of its core principles. To mark the month, staff are being asked:
"How are you living Caring Safely?" and submit their answers on this form.
Lori, a Senior Professional Practice Leader at TGH, is committed to Caring Safely by being alert, speaking up for safety and working with others to protect everyone – patients or staff – from harm or injury.
As Lori helped the husband and wife into the hallway leading to the hospital, she noticed that the elderly couple had worn their "Sunday best", with the man wearing a tie and dress pants, and the woman with beautifully dressed hair.
"They were proud individuals, holding on to their independence, still capable of taking the subway," says Lori.
Concerned, Lori gently asked how she might help the couple, but they refused any further aid.
Still worried, Lori walked them to a bench near the MaRS food court, and asked again if she could be of service. The couple thanked her, said no, and so Lori went to get a coffee nearby.
Afterwards, while hurrying to her meeting, Lori looked over in the direction of where she had left the couple and stopped as she saw them walking in a direction opposite to the hospital.
"They are not fine," she told herself. As she approached the couple, she asked, "How can I help you? Would you mind if I assisted you?" She learned that the couple were going to the blood lab in the hospital, which meant a long walk down a corridor with no chairs.
"The situation disturbed me," recalls Lori. "They were alone. I felt they were vulnerable even if they did not acknowledge it. I wanted to help them without making them feel embarrassed, so I started a conversation with them. We became 'hallway buddies'."
"Escorting them opened my eyes to what it's like to get around if anyone has any mobility challenges. There were many issues: a lack of signage to help with directions; getting around a very large hospital without help or seats to rest in; and the far away location of wheelchairs for people who need them."
Once Lori got the couple to the blood lab, she provided them with questions to ask their healthcare team: how to book door-to-door accessible transportation, whether a local blood lab could be used instead of the hospital one. She then went to the nearest hospital Information Desk to arrange for a volunteer to provide wheelchair escort to the clinic appointment after the blood test was completed.
The couple's trek to find their hospital clinic lingered in Lori's mind long after she left them. She met with UHN Infrastructure and walked them through the path the elderly couple had taken, pointing out how their experience could be improved with better signage, seating, an intercom or telephone to call for help, and nearby wheelchair stands.
She followed-up with clinic managers, asking if ambulatory staff inquire about mobility needs when they call patients to book clinic appointments. She also checked to make sure the access button, which opens the double doors from the subway to MaRS, was fixed.
"This whole experience really stopped me in my tracks," reflects Lori.
"We could do better by paying attention to detail and anticipating safety concerns through situational awareness. They're our patients and we need to be vigilant about what we are doing to help them."